Coming from a mishpacha (family) with both Eastern-European and Mizrahi roots, wine has always been an essential part of not just Passover seders, but all family simchas (happy occasions). With Passover around the corner, I’ve discovered the glories of a new wave of Israeli vineyards doing for kosher wine what Indian pale ales did for beer.
Out of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is perhaps most associated with wine. During the seder we drink four glasses of wine (each with a special meaning), we dip our fingers into wine while the plagues are recited, we fill Elijah’s cup and we bring wine as a gift to share with our friends and family.
However, kosher wine is somewhat the Smirnoff vodka of wines—not known for its quality, although the alcohol content is still there. My Cuban godfather is the one who first taught me the difference between a “good” wine and a “bad” wine. Being a discerning wine drinker who knows what she likes and considers quality, I have become a fan of Spanish wine.
So here’s the conundrum, is it possible to find a “good” kosher wine that does not taste like grape juice? And why does kosher wine have so many haters?
The reason stems from the traditional method of mevushal wine production, in which the wine is boiled to make it kosher. However, this process often seriously degrades the wine’s flavor and agreeability. Thanks to Israeli agricultural-based wineries, instead of industrialized wineries, kosher wine is getting a makeover, and today there are even excellent mevushal wines.
These days, Israeli wineries have made me a true believer in kosher wine. Israeli vineyards have developed a good reputation and become major suppliers of kosher wine in the Jewish Diaspora, thanks, especially, to the kibbutz wineries becoming a sustainable source of agricultural revenue.
The new wave of Israeli wines is often made from grapes grown in kibbutzim around Israel. Many of the wineries and distilleries in Israel use organic muscat, sauvignon blanc and viognier grapes, making the tannins more subliminal, smoother and richer than most other kosher wines.
All the wines listed below are Israeli, kosher for Passover, vegan, sustainably sourced, under 40 dollars and available at DC-area Whole Foods Markets, Yes! Organic Markets and Moti’s Market in Rockville. (In addition to Israeli wines, they stock many Spanish, Chilean and other wines that are also kosher for Passover.)
They’re so good, you might not want to share them with Elijah.
1. Ben Ami Cabernet Sauvignon
This Israeli Galilee wine has a deep hue, is full-bodied and offers plum and mocha aromas.
2. Yarden Syrah
Hints of anise bring out the tannins of this wine. An attractive background of oak adds to the wine’s full body and high concentration of flavor.
3. Recanati Merlot
Medium-bodied with vanilla and red berry flavors, the delicate merlot grapes in this wine are picked by hand and aged in oak barrels for eight months.
4. Barkan Classic Chardonnay
This dry, crisp wine has wonderful pear and citrus fruit flavors without being too sweet.
5. Tulip Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
A unique blend of cabernet from five different terroirs, which produce a wine with aromas of cassis and black fruit with a dash of saffron and toasted wood, this wine has full flavor with soft tannins and a pleasurable finish.