Passover (Pesach) begins today, at sundown. (For those of you not familiar with the Jewish holiday, here is a LINK.) While I am not Jewish a good friend of mine in college was, and I attended a number of seders at his family’s home outside of D.C. both during college and for several years after when I was teaching in Baltimore.
I spent so much time with his family that I learned quite a bit of Yiddish, developed a strong affinity for traditionally Jewish food, and I eventually earned HMOT status (Honorary Member of the Tribe).
Well, that is not entirely true; I did not have an affinity for all Jewish fare. Gefilte fish is rather nasty and Kosher wine was pretty awful. My adopted father of sorts, insisted that there was always a bottle of Manischewitz on the table.
Talk about nasty.
(If you have never tried Manischewitz, don’t. It is made from Concord grapes and is further sweetened by adding high fructose corn syrup. Yeah.)
This all occurred during my nascent wine fascination and I have since always linked “Kosher Wine?” with “No, I’ll just have a Miller Lite.”
It has been quite a while since I moved from Baltimore and attended my last seder, but after attending a kosher wine tasting in New York just prior to moving to Texas, I have become increasingly interested in kosher wines. While there are still some rather regrettable kosher wines out there, more wineries are making high-quality kosher wines as the demand for such wines has gradually increased over the last couple of decades.
Making Kosher wine is quite the undertaking for a mainstream winery. As soon as the fruit comes in, only Sabbath-observing Jews are allowed anywhere near the process. In fact, the winery has to have a dedicated room and equipment for its production and winery personnel are not even allowed in the same room as the fruit/wine until after bottling. This means that the winemaker and all those involved in the production of the wine have to be brought in to perform even the most mundane tasks.
At that New York tasting, I spent a bit of time talking with Menachem Israelievitch, the chief winemaker for Royal Wine, who lives in Paris. He makes all the European wine in the Royal portfolio, which includes a white Sancerre, a Provençal rosé, a red from the Loire, six champagnes, and a rosé and seven reds from eight estates in Bordeaux. And that’s just France!
That is a large reason that Kosher wines tend to run $10-15 more than their non-Kosher equivalents: every time anything needs to be done in the winery, they have to bring the labor in, usually from Paris (there are not a lot of sabbath observing Jews living in Bordeaux, Champagne, or Provence apparently).
Here are a few kosher wines that I tasted over the course of the last few days, in preparation for Passover.
2018 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc Lineage, Lake County, CA: Retail $20. While the rest of the wines on this list are non-Meshuval, this one is Meshuval, meaning it has been heated to kill any impurities (and thus can be served by a non-Jew to an observant Jew–all other kosher wines must be served, technically, by an observant Jew). A bit tropical on the nose with mango, pineapple, and even a hint of banana (wait, is that considered tropical?). The palate is quite tart with that mango and a bit of chalk. I am not a huge fan of Sauvignon, but this is a strong representation of the variety. And with all the issues that Lake County has had in the last year, I wholeheartedly support the wine. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2017 Vitkin Grenache Blanc Mount Meron, Upper Galilee, Israel: Retail $42. 90% Grenache Blanc, 10% Rousanne. While I envision myself a Member of the Tribe, I am very much a Christian reject (does that make me an atheist?). I have had a fair number of Kosher wines, given my goyim status, but I am pretty sure that this is my first Kosher Grenache Blanc from the Upper Galilee in Isreal that I have tasted. Yeah, I know, I need to branch out a bit. Fruity and quite expressive on the nose, whilst the palate is tart, but also has some subtleness. While not a “typical” Chenin, this has enough varietal “correctness” coupled with juicy goodness to make this worthy of remark. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2014 Carmel Shiraz Single Vineyard Kayoumi Vineyard, Upper Galilee, Israel: Retail $40. 98% Shiraz, 2% Viognier. Dark violet color with plum and vegetal aspects, this is a top-level wine on aromatics alone. The palate is equally intriguing, with rich black fruit, tobacco, spice. Fantastic. The palate is fruity yet reserved, with intricate flavors and depth. Yeah, Giddy-up. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2016 Pavillon de Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien, Bordeaux, France: Retail $80. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot. I am not a huge fan of the wines of Bordeaux, but this is particularly lovely: Dark and spicy in the glass and on the nose, a bit tart on the palate, full-on gangbusters otherwise. Whoa…. This is a great example of the difference between Kosher and non-kosher iterations. The blend for the non-kosher of the same vintage? 78% CS/22% Merlot. While I do not have the two for a side-by-side comparison, if the “original” is anything like this kosher version, Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2017 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy: Retail $23. 95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. I searched, I queried, I even pondered, but there was no indication on the internet as to the varietal composition of this wine. Then I looked at the back of the bottle. Oops. (Is that a subsection of Occam’s Razor?) Let’s be blunt: I like this wine. I might even love it. Fruity, funky (I love the funk), and tart, bring it. And then bring it some more. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2014 UVA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Limited Edition, Italy: Retail $28. 100% Montepulciano. B.A.B. (I hate that). On night one, this was a bit of a fruity mess, but after a bit of time open, this really settled down and was quite nice. Dark in the glass with blackberry and cassis (and maybe plum) on the nose. The palate is fruity, but not overbearing with some spice on the mid-palate and just the slightest grip of tannin on the finish. Nice. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.