Passover, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the Israelites' exodus from ancient Egypt, begins at sundown this coming Monday. We've said it many times before, but it bears repeating: Kosher wine is much, much more than sticky-sweet Manischevitz and Mogen David.
Whether in Israel, California, France, Spain or elsewhere, kosher winemakers are expressing the desire for their products to be judged on the world stage, alongside their non-kosher counterparts. They're studying the market, reaching out to non-kosher retailers and restaurants, and investing serious time and money into the quest for refined, elegant, potentially world-class wines.
In 2006, Herzog Wine Cellars, which recently opened a large new winery in Oxnard, Calif., purchased nearly 10 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Andy Beckstoffer's To-Kalon vineyard in Oakville. The site is the source of grapes for wineries such as Schrader and Paul Hobbs, and Herzog winemaker Joe Hurliman plans to create a wine for the Herzog Reserve program, whose current offerings sell at retail from $28 to $65. The winery has recently released the 2005 Herzog Lodi Zinfandel, their first reserve Zin, made from vines planted in the 1930s and retailing at $26. "We're really excited about the elegance and the immense amount of fruit we're getting from those old vines … all the berry components are really concentrated," says Hurliman.
In Israel, meanwhile, Barkan is proving its commitment to terroir and microclimate with the Reserve Altitude Series. Each of the series' three wines in the current 2003 release are 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, from vineyards that are 412, 624 and 720 meters above sea level, respectively. According to winemaker Yotam Sharon, "The 412 was, originally, the most muscular and tannic, with … massive power. It has evolved though, since bottling, and the tannins have now calmed down. The 720 is the exact opposite: Long, cool and racy … [it] is perhaps the most unique expression of Upper-Galilee Cab, of all the three. The 624 represents the middle ground … of the three, this is perhaps the most harmonious, complete wine."
Barkan is also starting to experiment with varieties that are new to Israel, including Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and, says Sharon, "better clones of Petite Sirah and Sémillon."
Italian producer Giordano has recently created the first ever kosher super Tuscan, Borgo Reale Toscano Rosso 2004. It's 70 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Merlot, and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and retails for about $21 a bottle.
"A lot of Jewish people who in the past weren't that religious or not drinking kosher wine are now much more interested in it, and they're looking for wines that remind them of what they were drinking before. The Italian kosher wines are a perfect example of that," explains Shai Germazian of Allied Importers, the company responsible for bringing Giordano, Dalton, Teperberg, Kinneret and other kosher and non-kosher wines into the United States.
According to Michael Aaron, chairman of New York's Sherry-Lehmann, consumer demand seems to be mirroring the increase in the quality of kosher wines worldwide. "We've seen more interest [in kosher wines], much more than 10 to 15 years ago," says Aaron. "Right now, for example, we carry  Château Valandraud, a kosher wine that's $250 a bottle, with fairly good sales success. We never would have dreamt of carrying that years ago."(Interested in learning more about kosher wine? Check out our Wine Spectator School course, Kosher ABCs of Wine Tasting.)
For Passover, every family has their favorite traditional seder recipes, but for those cooks looking for something new to supplement the matzo ball soup and charoset, we have put together a list of recipes from the Wine Spectator collection, suitable for meat or dairy/pareve meals, respectively (providing, of course, that all relevant ingredients are designated kosher for Passover).
|GOOSE BAY Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2005||90||$17|
|Kosher. Crisp, with herbal nuances to
the distinctive tangerine and quince aromas and flavors, finishing with a
flourish of fresh spices. Drink now. 1,200 cases made.
|DALTÔN Shiraz Galilee 2003||89||$22|
|Kosher. Full-bodied, with blackberry, dark
cherry and smoke flavors that linger with tar and mineral notes on the
finish. An impressive, structured red from Israel. Drink now
through 2009. 1,000 cases made. |
|GIORDANO Toscana Borgo Reale Tuscany 2004||88||$21|
|Kosher. Plenty of blackberry and
chocolate character on the nose. Medium-bodied, round and fruity, with a
long finish. Sangiovese and Canaiolo. Best after 2006. 1,500 cases made.
|HAGAFEN Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005||88||$15|
|Kosher. Racy, with a wide range of exotic
pineapple, papaya and mango flavors and a dash of lemongrass.
Drink now. 1,232 cases made. |
|HAGAFEN Brut Napa Valley Cuvée 2001||87||$30|
|Kosher. Pale copper color, mature
dried cherry and currant flavors show off its Pinot Noir roots. Gains
complexity, with the slightest nutty edge on the finish. Drink now. 560
cases made. |
|RECANATI Sauvignon Blanc Shomron 2005||86||$13|
|Kosher. A crisp, firm white, with touches of
richness and plenty of almond and citrus flavors. Smoky notes fill the
finish. Drink now. 1,600 cases made.
|DALTÔN Moscato Galilee Mevushal 2005||85||$12|
|Kosher. Very peachy, light and fresh, with a
touch of sweetness and notes of honey and spice on the finish. Serve
well-chilled. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.
|GIORDANO Chianti Borgo Reale Vespertino 2004||85||$14|
|Kosher. Simple and fruity, with hints
of berry and coffee. Medium-bodied, with light tannins and a fruity
finish. Drink now. 1,400 cases made.