I’ve been writing this blog for about 2 1/2 years now. And the most popular post I’ve written was the Best Bet Kosher Israeli wines for Passover post in March of 2008. since that post I’ve gained 2 years of wine wisdom and there are many new kosher wines on the market. So with Passover a short 25 days away, I thought what better time to update this most popular of posts.
Though the Zionist in me is partial to Israeli wines, the reality is that there are some sub-par Israeli wines and some excellent wines being produced in other regions of the world. So we’ll expand this version to include the best kosher wines from throughout the world.
Lets start in Argentina, where Baron Benjamin Rothschild is producing Malbec under the Flechas de Los Andes label. There is a non-kosher version of this wine that is very popular and can be found in stores all over. The kosher version ($25-30) was made in much smaller quantities and is a great wine for kosher consumers to check out and get a taste of what has made Argentinian Malbec the hottest wine in the US over the last 1-2 years.
Those following the plight of Australian wine of late know that Australia has taken a nose dive in terms of its popularity among US consumers. Cheap generic wine with critter labels (think Kangaroo) have turned consumers off. Combined with over production, droughts, and a bad exchange rate, and the Australian wine industry is in need of (and taking steps towards) a complete overhaul. Sadly I have never tasted a kosher Australian wine that has truly excited me. Altoona Hills produces some good value wines (under $10) while Teal Lake ($15) is a popular name and also makes wines at reasonable prices.
California has been producing great kosher wines for 20-30 years. Hagafen and its “I can’t believe its mevushal” (flash pasteurized) wines are always winners, and while not cheap, they are not wildly expensive either – especially considering their Silverado Trail (Napa Valley) address. The Hagafen Merlot ($30) was my epiphany wine many years ago and while I do not drink a lot of Hagafen these days I have heard great things about the new late harvest Sauvignon Blanc as well as their new Cab Franc (a varietal I used to shy away from, but that I have grown fond of in recent years).
Covenant is making top of the line California Cabs, but at a recent tasting, it was their new Covenant Lavan Chardonnay ($40) that struck me. I am not a paying member of the ABC club (“Anything But Chardonnay), but I have grown tired of oaky, buttery, flabby Chards. This wine has its share of oak, but it is lively, fresh, fruity and quite delicious.
When speaking of kosher California wines, no conversation is complete without mentioning the Herzog name. From their every day Baron Herzog to the Herzog Reserve & single vineyard wines, these guys are doing special stuff. I question whether any bottle is worth $200 (ToKalon Generation VIII) but those seemingly “in the know” have amazing things to say. My pay grade keeps me in the Baron Herzog & Herzog Reserve levels. Favorites here include the Baron Herzog Central Coast Chardonnay ($14 – crisp & refreshing) and “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($15- silky & complex). Be on the lookout for the newly released Baron Herzog Pinot Grigio ($14) which I have heard good things about. As to the Herzog Reserve wines, a long time favorite is the Herzog Alexander Valley Cabernet ($35 – well integrated fruit, great structure, complex with a long finish). While the Herzog Reserve Pinot Noir ($35) is not what I would expect (and dislike) from a CA Pinot – it is restrained (not an overripe fruit-bomb), earthy, elegant & what a Pinot should be.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Weinstock Cellars. The Cellar Select wines are crowd favorites and well priced for California wines. But the relatively new “W” wines are well made, easy drinking and very aggressively priced (under $10). The is a red & a pink (rose), but my favorite is the White by “W”, a refreshing and easy drinking white blend.
Given the recent earthquake it wouldn’t be a bad idea for everyone to throw some of their wine budget dollars towards Chilean wines. And with the Alfasi Reserves, all priced at about $10, it makes for a fruity wine perfect for filling one of your 4 Passover Seder cups.
No wine review is complete without an inclusion of French wines. But I’m not sure what to say about French wines. The good ones are wildly expensive (Valandraud, Lafite, Leoville Poyferre – all about $100+). The bad ones are…well, just bad. And there is not a whole lot of in between as even the good (but not great) ones are $50 (Chateau Rollan de By). If there is an exception it is the Rothschild wines that go for under $40 and present great value in French Wine. Speaking of value, a non-kosher producer making kosher wines is the Alsacian Willm ($20). Willm maintains a terrific reputation for his non-kosher wines and while I have not (yet) had the opportunity to taste his kosher wines if you are into austere whites you should check these out. And finally, a White Burgundy, Labet Puligny Montrachet ($50) that combines bright acidity, luscious creaminess & a delightful nutty toastiness like only a fine Burgundy can.
Sticking in the OLD WORLD (and skipping Israel – for now) brings us to Italy. Like Australia, I think the kosher world has been mostly devoid of quality Italian wines. I have heard nice things about the affordable Gabrielle Wines and their Montepulciano ($15) in particular. And I recently had the opportunity to taste a new kosher Italian wine, the Ovadia Barolo, ($?) that ain’t gonna be cheap, but is a real winner showing classic Nebbiolo tobacco, tar, leather & fruit. But I have tasted some amazingly good, unique & interesting Italian wines and the kosher world really needs to be introduced to more wines like these.
New York is not exactly a wine producing mecca, but Red Fern is succeeding where others are too scared to even try. The Red Fern Merlot & Syrah ($25) are both very nice wines; well balanced with surprisingly good extraction.
New Zealand has the wonderful wines of Goose Bay. The Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($25) is a perennial winner. While the Goose Bay Pinot Gris is a sleeper pick worth checking out. I really liked the 2006 Goose Bay Pinot Noir, but have found the 2007 to be well made but too fruit driven for my palate.
Where Australia & Italy are lacking, Spain is kicking butt. The Ramon Cordova Wines are very nice, especially the Rioja Reserva ($35). Elvi is making great wines as well, at all price points. For easy drinking check out the Classico ($15) or Matiz Rioja ($15). For more serious drinking, check out the El 26 Priorat. But my favorite Spanish producer is Capcanes. They make about 12 wines, but only 2 are kosher, and both are terrific. The Capcanes Peraj Petita ($20) has bright fruit, fresh liveliness, some spice and a hint of earth. And one of my favorite kosher wines of all, the Capcanes Peraj Ha’abib ($60 – think spring flower) is loaded. Complex layers of fruit, bramble, clove, leather…the wine is velvety, intense, long and age worthy. I had the pleasure to try the 2003 Peraj Ha’abib recently and it reminded me of a good Burgundy, wet leaves and all. Oh yeah, that is good stuff!
It is the middle of the night and I have not touched Israel yet. So I guess there is going to be a Passover Wines 2.1. But I want to touch on two more categories before signing off for the night.
Sparkling wines. Sparkling wine is tremendously under-appreciated in kosher circles yet remains the most versatile of wines (food neutral – pairs with EVERYTHING). The Adar Cava Brut by the aforementioned Elvi is a lovely and affordable ($<20) sparkling wine with lemony, toasty flavors and a pleasant sparkling mousse. The Herzog California Brut is nice and I’m looking forward to checking out the new Herzog Brut Rose’. There have been Champagne houses that have produced kosher cuvee’s and then stopped. Nicholas Feuillatte made a few, one of which I stashed away in my cellar for a special occasion. When that day (finally) arrived my wife (I think she was my girlfriend at the time) and I were rewarded with a little taste of heaven. Now may be your last chance to take advantage of another such opportunity. JeanMaire Champagne is officially out of stock at the importer and will not be making any more kosher versions. At about $75 it ain’t cheap, but how can you put a price tag on memories and special occasions. Not ceasing its production of special and rather expensive Champagne is Laurent-Perrier. I have (sadly) never tried these sparkling wines, but if you want to pick up something special for you and your significant other, look no further.
Wine Tasting Guy here about to finish part 1 of 2 Best Bet Passover wines with…spirits!
I’m a whiskey lover, single malts and bourbon in particular. But these brown spirits are no-no’s on Passover. Enter Brandy, or Cognac as the case may be (if it is from the region of France). The Carmel 777 is good. The Carmel 100 is great. In terms of Cognac there is the Louis Royer; comes in VS, VSOP & XO. I think the VSOP is the best bang for your buck, but the XO is a special Cognac. Finally, I’ve been speaking with people who have said that the Godet XO Cognac‘s are spectacular and worth checking out.
Until part 2 (AKA Vol. 2.1), happy kosher for Passover wine (and spirit) tasting!