By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Kosher wines are achieving their own deliverance. If your idea of wine for Passover stops with Manischewitz -- or if kosher wines don't typically cross your mind at all -- think again. Now coming into their own globally with quality never before imagined, kosher wines are being made in such places as Israel, the United States, France, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
The rise of a new generation of wine drinkers has helped increase sales in the "kosher sophisticated" category by 15 to 20 percent annually over the past five years, according to Martin Davidson of Royal Wines, a leading wine importer and winemaker. "We are finally overcoming reticence from the Jewish community toward wine and spirits," Davidson says. "The older generation knew them as sweet and syrupy wines for sacramental occasions, while today the younger generation recognizes wines as something to be sipped and appreciated." Today's discerning and demanding palates and adventurous spirits are spurring the production and sale of a wide range of increasingly high-quality wines.
At the second annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience in New York City in February, we were among 800 attendees tasting more than 200 wines. Among them was the 2003 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Haut-Médoc ($30-$32; kosher for Passover). Rothschild is celebrating its 20th anniversary of producing a kosher Bordeaux, a pioneering move that inspired other top French wineries (including Malartic and Valandraud) to follow suit and helped bring attention to changing kosher wine options. The 2003 is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent merlot, aged for a year in French oak. Re-tasting the wine at home, we found that decanting opened up its rich, jammy, red-fruit flavors, spicy notes and long, luscious finish. It was a peak pairing with brisket.
Jewish custom calls for drinking four cups of wine at the Passover Seder, each representing a promise from God. Although red wine is traditional, many believe any "fruit of the vine" is acceptable. "So, it's a wonderful opportunity to taste four different wines," Davidson says. After discovering so many that we look forward to tasting again, we heartily agree. We paired this week's recommendations, all kosher for Passover, with some common Passover food:
Gefilte fish: Pop open a bottle of 2000 Yarden Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine ($27) from Galilee, and enjoy the refreshing lemony acidity on the front and blueberry finish of this delightful bubbly. Or go straight for the perfect match in the 2006 Goose Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($20; mevushal, see this tip). Its bright pear and lemon-peel flavors replace the usual New Zealand grapefruit zing, and it sang with gefilte fish, as we imagine it would with many lighter seafood dishes.
Chopped liver: Forget foie gras and Sauternes for a moment. The combination of chopped liver and the 2007 Yarden Gewurztraminer ($18) from Galilee is just as great a match in its own way. This 100 percent Gewurztraminer's spicy floral nose gives way to honeyed peach fruitiness, and serving it very cold heightened its refreshing acidity, complementing chopped liver beautifully. (We polished off our bottle with Indian curry.)
Roasted chicken or turkey: Either is nicely paired with a medium-bodied 2005 Yarden Odem Organic Vineyard Chardonnay ($18-$21) from the Odem Vineyard in Galilee, which has been farmed organically for the past decade. It features an oaky, vanilla nose reminiscent of a classic California chardonnay with buttery pear flavors and refreshing acidity. Almost as enjoyable was the 2006 Baron Herzog Central Coast Chardonnay ($14; mevushal); its prior vintage deservedly won a spot on Consumer Reports' list of top 10 chardonnays. It's a fantastic wine: light- to medium-bodied and refreshingly lush, with the best of the grape's characteristic flavors of apples, pears and vanilla. It pairs just as well with fish and veal dishes.
Beef brisket: Luscious red wines can do justice to all manner of beef and lamb. Winemaker Joe Hurliman has described his syrah as the closest to his heart from the line of award-winning wines he has made over the past decade for Herzog, which has a state-of-the-art winery in California. The 2004 Herzog Special Reserve Edna Valley Syrah ($30-$34) won our hearts, too, with its tart black cherry and cooked-plum flavors, distinctive white pepper notes, soft-to-medium tannins and balanced acidity. We also enjoyed the 2006 Galil Mountain Shiraz ($14) from Galilee, with spicy, cooked-red-fruit flavors that are balanced by what Andrew describes as a "tree bark" kind of earthiness.
Flourless chocolate cake: Made in Israel from 100 percent pomegranate (known as rimon in ancient times), the unusual, quite full-bodied (at 15 percent alcohol) and deeply flavored Rimon Winery Black Label Pomegranate Dessert Wine ($36) has tart, cranberry-like fruitiness balanced by its own natural sweetness that contrasts perfectly with a rich, dark-chocolate dessert.
Macaroons: Coconut cookies will find a lively pairing in the 2005 Carmel Winery Shaal Single Vineyard Late Harvest Gewurztraminer ($18-$20). This sweet, luscious wine with the flavor of honeyed apricots also pairs well with creamy desserts and is the perfect example of a wonderful kosher wine worth seeking out no matter what your religious beliefs.