Passover begins on Wednesday at sundown, commencing one of the most sacred yet enjoyable observances in Jewish tradition. While the food on the table for the Seder dinner may be more about symbolism than savoriness, that rule doesn't have to apply to the wine.
While kosher wine was long thought of as sweet and simple, producers in many of the world's major wine regions have been making kosher bottlings in recent years that are perfectly suitable both for evoking the Passover themes of freedom, deliverance, redemption and release and for pleasurable quaffing on any occasion.
If there's one thing we have more of nowadays when it comes to wine, it's choice. And kosher wines are no exception. They're produced in range of styles, varieties and prices--from dry to sweet, from white to red to sparkling, from Cabernet to Zinfandel and from under $10 to as much as $85. And more kosher wines are finding their way into U.S. wine shops all the time.
This year, New York-based Royal Wine Corp.--a large producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines--has added several more offerings to its already extensive portfolio of more than 400 wines from around the world. The new additions include Capcanes Peraj Ha'abib, a blend of Garnacha, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain; Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand; several varieties and blends from Israeli producers Yatir and Bazelet HaGolan; and two new wines from California winery Herzog, a late-harvest Zinfandel and Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon "Jeunesse."
The trick is to figure out which wines are right for you. "It depends on how open-minded [customers] are," says Costas Mouzouras, wine buyer at New York City's Gotham Wines, which offers a wide selection of kosher wines. "You have to consume four cups of wine in a short time. Some choose great wines, and others choose basic stuff and have the special stuff afterward," he says. "Most people seem to build up to the richer wines at the end."
But Mouzouras recommends that you start Seder dinner with the richer, higher quality wines, while your senses are still fresh and the wines can be appreciated. "By the end you really don't care anymore," he says.
Last but not least, Mouzouras suggests that you simply choose wines you think you'll enjoy instead of trying to pair them with the foods of the Seder dinner, which are always the same. "Don't look for the perfect match," he says, "because then it's going to be the same wines over and over and over again."
Instead, he looks for wines that won't overpower the meal. Some of his favorite kosher wines this year include several varieties from Dalton and Recanati wineries in Israel, but he's especially excited about new offerings from renowned consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella in Italy. Cotarella, whose helps run his family's Umbrian estate, Falesco (whose Vitiano red blend is one of Italy's best values), is known for making the wines of Nottola in Montepulciano, Montevetrano in the Neapolitan hills and Morgante in Sicily, but he's now also producing kosher Italian wines under the Monte Olivo label. "In the next couple years we'll see some great stuff coming out of Italy," predicts Mouzouras.
While many of these wines are new on the market and have yet to be reviewed, Wine Spectator's tasting department has provided ratings and notes from 9 recently tasted kosher wines.
To learn more about kosher wines, check out our explanation of what makes kosher wines kosher and read about Château Valandraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin, the famous Bordeaux garagiste whose kosher offering aims to compete with the best of St.-Emilion, not only with other kosher wines. Also look into what's new at Herzog, one of the best-known kosher producers in the United States.
|COVENANT Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003||92||$85|
|A rich, exotic, distinctive style, with aromas of ripe currant, plum and blackberry along with an intriguing new shoe leather aroma that plays in the background. Shows a measure of finesse and polish on the finish, with ripe, integrated tannins. An impressive debut. Best from 2006 through 2012. 550 cases made.
|DOMAINE DU CASTEL C Blanc du Castel Haute-Judée 2003||90||$40|
|Rich, fresh white, with a Burgundian allure. This has lovely aromas and flavors of mineral, custard and vanilla pastry. Crème brûlée notes fill the finish. Premier cru quality; a revelation from the Holy Land. Chardonnay. Drink now through 2008. 400 cases made.
|GALIL MOUNTAIN Chardonnay Galilee 2003||87||$15|
|Buttery, with ripe pear flavors and plenty of spice notes. Obvious, but appealing, with a fat texture on the long finish. Drink now. 400 cases imported.
|GALIL MOUNTAIN Merlot Galilee 2003||87||$16|
|Crisp, firm red with a nice display of crushed red fruit flavors and a good backbone of acidity. Medium-bodied, with spicy red cherry notes filling the finish. Drink now through 2007. 3,000 cases imported.
|KINNERET Muscat de Hambourg Ella Valley Rosé 2003||87||$13|
|Pleasantly sweet, with a fruity aroma and delicious flavors of peach, cherry and kirsch. Needs to go with a light pastry at dessert. Drink now. 5,000 cases made.
|DALTÔN Sauvignon Blanc Galilee Reserve 2004||86||$18|
|Pleasant, fruity and crisp, with a citrusy flavor profile and notes of ginger and mineral. Firm, clean finish. Drink now. 1,665 cases made.
|TEAL LAKE Cabernet-Merlot South Eastern Australia 2002||86||$13|
|Bright and appealing for its pure currant and dusky herb flavors, persisting nicely on the finish. Drink now. 11,000 cases made.
|DALTÔN Chardonnay Galilee Reserve 2003||85||$20|
|Fat white, with baked apple and pear flavors, with loads of spice, smoke and buttery notes. Drink now. 1,040 cases made.
|GALIL MOUNTAIN Rosé Galilee 2004||85||$15|
|Fresh, bright rosé, with berry, cherry and melon flavors. Firm structure and a crisp, spicy finish. Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Drink now. 200 cases imported.
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