Tanya Halel Reserve Merlot 2007 and Hevron Heights Pardess Merlot 2005 review

Tanya Halel Reserve Merlot 2007 NIS 99
Hevron Heights Pardess Merlot 2005 NIS 79
The Tanya winery story begins in 2001 with a religious family of Cohens who wished to recreate a family run winery as in days of old in ancient Israel.  The winery is based in the town of Ofra in the Binyamin region. The whole area of Binyamin in the Shomron (north of Yerushalayim) is strewn with 3000 years of Jewish winery remains. The Cohen’s had a dream to continue this very Jewish tradition to produce the finest Shomron wines they possibly could without compromise and they have so far been very successful.
Tanya is the name of the owner’s eldest daughter but the winery’s names primarily use references to the Talmud (Jewish Oral Law). The word “Tanya” occurs hundreds of times in the Talmud to introduce a teaching of the Chachamim (The wise sages).
Yoram Cohen, Owner.

The Tanya Ranges
This no compromise ideology (as well as its modest size) translate into quite expensive and exlusive wine.
I say cheapest but certainly not cheap is their “Halel” range at around NIS 100. Next there is their “Eliya” range at around NIS 150. Lastly, their outragiously expensive top of the range “Enosh Reserve” at around NIS 500 and up. If the wine won’t make you giddy, the price certainly will.
The Label
As always, I like making a few comments about the label as I feel that this goes a long way to setting the image of the wine. As with so many Israeli wineries, I am unhappy with the overall impression of this label.
The label is too “busy” meaning that too many different things are crammed into a little label producing an overall feeling of confusion.
A wine label needs to first and foremost communicate clearly what type of wine it is and any other pertinent information. The label needs to transmit confidence and elegance and in my opinion, the best way of doing this is with sophisticated understatement and simplicity. This doesn’t mean that much thought and effort should not be put into the label. It actually takes some very advanced graphics technology and the highest professional design team to produce an impression of “simplicity” but it really works. The British learnt this trick a long time ago. We Israelis desperately need to learn this lesson.

The first thing I, as a religious Jew, look at on the label is of course the Teudas Hechshir (the Kashrut certification). I was speaking to someone in shul who reads my blog posts and he criticised me for not including Kashrus information on all my wines. I replied that anyone who knows me would know that I would not drink any wine that does not have a reliable hechshir. Nevertheless he insisted, many frum Jews only rely on a few or even one hechshir and I ought to state within each review, all the different hechshirim printed on the label. So here goes:
The Hechshir
This Tanya has some very reliable hechshirim.
1. Machon L'Kashrus, HaRav Mordechai Ungar, New Square NY, U.S.A
2. “OK” Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, 391 Troy Avenue - Brooklyn, New York 11213
3. Local Certification by Rav Avraham HaLevy Fischer, Ofra. Israel

The information of the back label is quite useful. It tells us that this Merlot has been aged in French Oak barrels for 19 months. Interestingly, they are proud that their wines have been unclarified and unfiltered to, as they say “to preserve its natural flavours and aromas”.
Wine Clarification and Chill Filtration

Wine Clarification is the removal of particles (that would others wise be floating around in the bottle), from the liquid. The kinds of objects we are talking about are left over yeast bits, various tannins, tiny pieces of grape skins, pulp and stems. This process results in making the liquid look clear, with a clean appearance without that mucky residue which puts many people off because they think the wine looks dirty and therefore will not be nice to drink.
Clarification, as far as I understand (please write and correct me if I am wrong) is known in the Scotch whisky trade as “Filtration” or “Chill Filtration”. The liquid is cooled to 0 degrees Celsius and passed through a fine filter to remove sediment and oily like compounds produced during the distillation and maturation process. It has the result of producing a cleaner, brighter colour whisky that does not cloud over with temperature changes. Whisky manufacturers like it because results in a more consistent looking “clean” product which looks good in the bottle.
I must admit being a bit confused by the Tanya label as it mentions both “Clarification” and “Filtration” as if they were two different processes where as I always thought they meant the same thing. Perhaps they do the same job but the winery is referring to two different processes or techniques?
In any case, it used to be the case that it was a brave whisky distillery or wine maker who chose not to filter their product. The disadvantages would seem obvious but what is the advantage to non-filtering? Well, “the experts” say that filtering or clarification removes some of the character and depth of the drink; some would go so far as to say that it robs the whisky or wine of its very sole in order to please the market guys!
I have never participated in a one on one, that is filtered verses non-filtered test and probably never will but I can say that within the Single Malt industry, non-filtration is becoming increasingly popular and fashionable and that stating on the label that this whisky is “non-chill filtered” is today considered something which will actually promote sales.

Now to the actual wine review:
Phew! So after that very long (but I do hope interesting and informative) introduction we get on to the wine review.
We opened the bottle some 20 minutes before Kiddush.  It had been in my wine cooler, set to 16 degrees Celsius, since Thursday evening. The back label recommends drinking at around 18 C so before we went to shul, I removed the bottle from the cooler and left it by my wife’s Shabbos candlesticks to warm up to room temperature. The weather here in Israel has turned quite cold, around 16 C outside so I was confident that the bottle would be the correct temperature by the time we got home after Maariv (Evening Prayers).
Pouring the wine, we noticed a rather cloudy muddy type Ribena Blackcurrant drink colour.

Bringing the wine for the first time to my nose, it smelt of lightly stewed prunes in oak. Next I swelled the wine around in the glass and then took a good long sniff again. There was now an explosion of aromas. I could now detect sultanas, prunes and syrupy figs with some kind of unidentifiable fresh spiciness about it. The wood was noticeable but never overpowering. Very pleasing on the nose.
Tasting Notes:
Initial tasting brought out more of that stewed mixture of sultanas, prunes and figs but with a fresh “leafy” taste. Again, I couldn’t really identify it. It wasn’t parsley or coriander or dill. It was leafy but without any bitterness. It wasn’t green tea.  All my family could come up with was a “fresh green leafy” sweetness type taste. Body was full but not heavy. I suspected that despite being outside the cooler for over an hour, the wine was a touch too cold still to experience more depth which I’m sure was there. Finish was fruity with slight bitter tannins but not unpleasent.

We decided to leave the rest of the wine in the glass and bottle until after HaMotzi (when we had all eaten at least a kziyit of challa). We next drank the Tanya Halel Merlot with our Hors d'oeuvres and challa. Some friends of my parents had come to Israel this week to celebrate his 70th birthday so we took the opportunity in inviting them for dinner. They very kindly turned up with about ½ kilo of Scottish Smoked Salmon from the UK (with a hechshir) which we put straight in the fridge waiting to take pride of place at our Shabbos table. We also enjoyed a delicious egg and spring onions salad which my daughter had made.


That depth which I suspected all along was there, now came to the fore. We tasted layers of fruits, black current jam, plum jam, those figs again and some fresh green spice. I fear that the strong but delicious taste of the smoked salmon rather blotted out any other subtle tastes within the wine but I can tell you that we all thoroughly enjoyed this excellent Merlot. My daughter even went as far as to say that it was her favourite Merlot so far. Praise indeed.

Hevron Heights Pardess Merlot 2005

This Friday night we had a couple of guests who also enjoyed a glass of wine or two so the bottle was drained pretty quickly. They weren’t Whisky drinkers so I decided to open another bottle of Merlot from a different winery at the same time as the Tanya and leave it to drink during the main course as a comparison. So it was that after an hour we got round to drinking this wine.
This wine has some very impressive kashrus certification: Perhaps the highest I have ever seen on a wine.
1. OU Kashrut, Rabbi Mordechai Kuber, Jerusalem, Israel.
2. Rav Machpud, HaGaon Rav Shlomo Machpod, Yoreh Deah, Bnei Brak, Israel.
3. Local Certification by HaRav Dov Lior, Rabbi of Kiryat Arba.

If only this was an indication of the quality of the wine. Alas it is not.
The label is really weird. They have obviously tried to make their label look European, French or Italian in style by making the colour paper a kind of an old parchment brown and placing a knight’s helmet on the front and back label. On top of this they have printed in Rashi script, various pasukim from Tanach and descriptions of the wine, including the year of vintage according to the Hebrew calender,  adding up to a rather culturally confused label.

What on earth does the city of Chevron have to do with knights? The strange thing is that I like the label. I really do! Don’t ask me why. All the individual parts of the design seem ill conceived yet the overall impression of the wine label I find very pleasing. My wife and kids however do not agree. To them it looks kitsch, tacky and Well OTT. Our Shabbos guests were also not impressed and rather nonplussed by the design.

Information on the back tells us that this Merlot has matured for 18 months in the barrel. One also has to bear in mind that it was 2005 vintage as opposed to the Tanya which was 2 years younger. So you would expect an overall smoother, deeper taste.
We poured the wine noticing a rather artificial “plastic” like purple colour.
Even after being left to breathe, when I poured the Hevron Pardess Merlot 2005 there was a smell of alcohol and raisins with dry wood notes and some dry spices. Swirling the wine around in the glass did not elicit any more information.
Initial tasting was medium weight indefinable dry fruit with no body to speak of. The wine was 2 dimensional, flat and boring. Then the massive attack of tannins began, turning my gums to chalk. Dreadful stuff.  To have such powerful tannins even after 7 years in the bottle takes some doing. I would describe this Merlot as a very overpriced table wine. If you own a bottle of this stuff then drink it with spicy heavy food so that blots out the many short comings of this particularly aggressive wine.

The least said the better. Not recommended.


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