Best bet (kosher) Israeli wines for Passover – at all price ranges…

I have been asked by countless people which wines I would recommend they check out for Passover, so I thought it appropriate to blog for the masses. I am not going to go into ALL kosher wines but I will discuss where my passion lay, Israeli wines. I will present wines in each price level both so that everyone can find a wine in their range and so that some of you can buy different wines for different purposes (some for the 4 cups & others to drink with the meals).

The first price point you may ask about is the UNDER $10 range. I am sorry to say that I am not much a fan of ANY wine in this range. If you have had a wine priced here that you like, GO FOR IT. Buy it up, drink it and be proud. To my ever evolving palate, the wines in this category are thin, unbalanced, alcoholic and just not worth it.

So let’s begin in the $10-$15 price range. There are many very nice finds here that are pleasant, easy to drink, not overly complex, but overall pretty good wines. The first I will start with is one that helped a financially challenged Wine Tasting Guy get through many a Jewish holiday. The Dalton Canaan Red. The 2006 Canaan Red can be found here for $12 but is often priced at $13, $14 and higher. It is a blend that changes from year to year but the one constant is that it is a very nice (albeit simple) wine that consistently proves to be great value for the $.

Another wine in this category comes from a producer I have really begun to appreciate of late. Galil Mountain. Many of the lower level Galil mountain wines were once just not very good, but in recent vintages they have not only improved, they might represent the BEST value wines out there. Amazingly enough the Galil Cabernet has gotten so good it even does well with a little age. You will find both 2005 & 2006 vintages in stock. Both are great (as long as the ’05′s which have been out for well over a year were stored properly) but the 2006 were rated slightly higher by Israeli wine critic Daniel Rogov. You should be able to find either vintage for about $13. The 2005 is selling for $12.50 here, while the 2006 is selling for just over $13 here. Also in the $13-$14 range from Galil Mountain and worth checking out is their Merlot &/or Shiraz. All very nice wines.

The last wine I want to bring up in this category comes from the Golan Heights Winery, famous for its Yarden wines. NO, I am not a fan of the Yarden “Mt. Hermon” wines, but the GH Winery has a 2nd label you should all familiarize yourselves with – GAMLA. Similar to the Galil mountain wines, Gamla once produced wines that I was not very fond of. But as the wine industry has matured (vineyards & wine making techniques have improved) and customers have become more sophisticated, the wines of Gamla have improved by leaps and bounds. While I am not VERY familiar with all the Gamla wines I hear good things and definitely recommend trying them. Of special note is the KING, the Cabernet Sauvignon from Gamla, of which many vintages are still available. I have found 2003-2005 in stores ranging in price from about $13.50 up to as high as $19. Rogov gives the 2004 the best score of the bunch, but any will do the trick at $14 or so.

Another crowded and popular space, one which I frequent these days for big shabbat dinners is the $15-$20 space. A recurring theme, we will once again find Dalton & Galil Mountain here. But there is a winery I have not yet mentioned – Recanati. Imported by a NON-KOSHER wine importer, Recanati is the one kosher brand in their portfolio. Well regarded throughout Israel, Recanati produces some fine wines. In our present category you will find an atypical blend from Recanati - their Reserve Petite Sirah/Zinfandel blend. This is a full bodied wine with loads of tannins, but with a little breathing time, a beautiful and even somewhat complex wine. Definitely fruit forward, the PS/Zin can be found in the 2004 vintage and sells for between $16-$24 – yes, a wide range. It was on sale for a while for $16 but now can be bought here for $19. Skyview in Riverdale has it listed for $18 but the wine is not listed on their site. i would call ahead just in case.

Another fruit forward wine with a BIG BURLY BODY is the Estate Shiraz from Dalton. kosherwine.com says their 2005 is sold out and I did not see the 2005 elsewhere. I did find the 2006 here for $18 here (no vintage listed) for $19 and here for $20. This too was a wine I have found in the past for $15-16, but as one friend recently wrote to me “dude, how expensive did wine prices get?!!”

A 3rd wine in this category that I must admit I am not too familiar with is the Segal Cabernet reserve. I’m including it here as it has received very positive reviews for its quality especially at the $16-17 price you can get it for. I absolutely love the Segal’s “unfiltered” so I definitely intend to check this wine out this Passover.

The last wine in this category I’m compelled to mention is another from Galil Mountain. Their Shiraz/Cab blend is a very nice wine. It can be found for both the 2003 & 2004 vintages. I would try a bottle of each and then load up on whatever your personal preference is. Prices for each fall into the $15.50 category. Sadly, a retailer in the Bronx who used to consistently have the best prices during his PASSOVER sale comes in the most expensive at $17. Also of note from Galil Mountain is their Pinot Noir, which is generally priced in this range and as good an Israeli Pinot as you will find.

Next is my favorite category. The $20-25 range. I know we are getting a little expensive here but I really believe that these wines represent the best bang for your buck. Wines that are soft & elegant yet complex and age worthy.

My favorite here and possibly the wine I seek out most for its quality and value is the YIRON by Galil Mountain. They make a Yiron Syrah which is very nice as well, but their regular Yiron, which is a Bordeaux blend (a blend of the grapes used in French Bordeaux), sometimes with Syrah added in is just a fabulous wine. Complex with lots of flavors and aroma’s, very well balanced with a silky mouth feel, and a long finish that sits on your palate and allows you to really ponder this wine. There was a time this wine could be found for $16, but nowadays you’re gonna have to pay $20 or more. Interesting side note is that you can get the 2001 here for about $11, but buyer beware – I have heard from some who have purchased it that this wine is declining and should be consumed within the next few months, perfect if you plan to drink it over Passover. The 2003 & the latest release, the 2004 are both drinking beautifully right now.

Another wine that has been a long time favorite of mine is the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve had many different vintages of this wine and it is a winner. The oldest one I tried was a 1993, but I’ve also had the ’97, ’99 and have recently been drinking the 2002, & 2003. The winery has since released the 2004 as well. The ’02 can be found here for $20 and is still drinking very nicely. 2002 however was not a great vintage in Israel in general with some strange weather so if you are considering a case to put away for a few years I would stick with the 2003 or 2004. The ’03 is $22.50 here & the ’04 is $22 here. Also from Yarden is their Syrah and Pinot Noir. Both quality wines that you can not go wrong with.

Things begin to get a bit murky in the $25-30 range. Without sales you may find some of the aforementioned Yarden wines fall into this range. Dalton has some nice wines for about $30 including their Reserve Syrah or their Zinfandel which sold out in Israel. There are other wines that belong here, such as Ella Valley Vineyards wines as well as several Carmel “Appellation” or “Single Vineyard” wines. Relative to other wine producing regions (think California or France) this is still a very reasonable price point, but to be completely honest none of these wines get me too excited.

So let’s skip right along to the $30+ category.

At about $40 two wines stand out. Yes, I like the Barkan altitude series (all 3 of them) but when for the same $40 I can get a 2002 Carmel Limited Edition (also known in this year as an Appellation – here for UNDER $30 – a steal as it is generally $40) or a Domaine du Castel Petit Castel I tend to pass on the Barkan and go for the others. As to the Petit Castel, you can find the 2003 here for $38, the 2004 here for $35 and the latest release, the 2005 here for $37. You can’t go wrong with any of these and I would certainly recommend trying them all, but Rogov rated the 2004 the highest (which should only provide a barometer as YOU need to trust your own palate).

At $50 two wines that come in are “The Cave” now owned by Binyamina and a favorite of mine (if only I stayed in finance) the “Unfiltered” by Segal’s. I’m not as sold on the Cave as I had been in the past following some recent tastings of it but I truly love the unfiltered. The Unfiltered is available in 2002 & 2003, each for $50. if you find it for less LET ME KNOW!

Finally, above $50 the Carmel Limited 2003 or 2004 are very highly regarded. I am not too familiar with the wines and with their $60 price tag I would only encourage those of you in a very desirable tax bracket to check these out. And for those who do, it isn’t for this holiday season. It is a wine that can use a few years to properly show itself. Yarden has some single vineyard wines from their El Rom vineyard that is apparently very special for those of you with very discerning palates. And I hear that they are about to release (don’t know if/when it will arrive Stateside) some single vineyard Merlot & Syrah from their Ortal vineyard which is also very nice.

A winery I am very familiar with as I am close with the winemaker and his amazing family is the Bustan Family Winery. Yakov together with help from friends and family (I’ve actually helped too ;) ) makes some truly hand crafted wines. The French term “terroir” basically refers to wines that truly reflect the place in which they were made – everything from soil & that years weather right down to the winery itself. Well, with Bustan wines you will get true terroir driven wines. Yakov is a brilliant man and fabulous winemaker yet rather than concocting a wine, he believes in minimal intervention that leads to wines that are (using a food analogy) hand “home-made” rather than scientifically manufactured. Bustan’s wines are 100% varietal – a Cabernet, a merlot & a Syrah. They ain’t cheap at about $50-60 bucks, but well worth it for those of you prepared to spend that kind of money.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Castel Grand Vin. Castel went from an uncertified Israeli winery to one with kosher certification during the 2002 harvest. As such, many (but not all) 2002′s are kosher, as are all wines released since 2002. With a little luck you can still find all the kosher Grand Vin vintages, beginning with the 2002 supposedly at Park Ave Liquor for $65, the 2003 here for $75, the 2004 here for $48.50 (a great price) and the 2005 for between $55 & $60.

I apologize to those of you looking for white wine recommendations. I have plenty of those to make but this piece is already WAY TOO LONG. Feel free to contact me directly and we can discuss.

I’d be remiss not to mention several of the AMAZING boutique wineries in Israel producing wines that would really knock your socks off, but I’m now speaking of boutiques who have chosen NOT to pursue a kosher certification. These are wines made & handled by jews, most of them well intended g-d fearing jews – who for one reason or another chose not to pay extra to have a supervisor (mashgiach) add to their expense and handle all the wine making duties for them. There are some really fabulous wines that fall into this category and you will definitely hear me talk more about these wines. But for our purposes here they do not apply.

I hope this helps you all in your quest to find the best kosher wines (for YOU) for your Passover holiday. I wish you all a fabulous holiday and hope to hear back from you about some new wines you may have tried.

Happy kosher Passover wine shopping!

WTG.

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