March 24, 2010
Passover preparation can be an arduous task. You clean the house, get rid of leavened foods, bring out the right china, cook a Seder dinner — and shop for kosher wine.
"Jews are required to drink wine on Passover, even if they don't like wine and never buy it," said Lee Dresner, Midwest regional manager for Royal Wine Corp., a New Jersey-based producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines, liquors, spirits and grape juices.
Passover begins at sundown March 29. Four cups of wine are drunk during the Seder, which commemorates the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Observant Jews will pour wine with a kosher-for-Passover designation. Some may pour a wine labeled as mevushal, meaning the wine has been flash-pasteurized and thus retains its kosher status even if handled and poured by non-Jews.
Don't think you have to stick with that traditional bottle of sweet red your grandmother bought. There's an ever-widening selection of high-quality kosher wines from every corner of the winemaking world. You have a choice, ranging from a youthful inexpensive California white to a cellar-worthy Bordeaux from one of the world's top winemakers.
"There is life beyond Manischewitz double Concord," quipped Evan Goldstein, author of the new book "Daring Pairings" ( University of California Press, $34.95).
"For many it depends on how strictly they define kosher as a constraint," said Goldstein, president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, a wine and spirits education company in San Carlos, Calif. "(Are they) more liberal or more mevushal?"
Belinda Chang, wine director of The Modern restaurant in New York City, said kosher wines, like their organic counterparts, are no longer the "weird, dusty bottles" found on the bottom shelf of the local supermarket or wine shop.
"Here in New York, we have a distributor that specializes 100 percent in kosher wines, and they come from venerable wineries like Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Leoville-Poyferre and from great estates all over the world. I've had nice bottlings from Goose Bay in New Zealand, Baron Herzog in California and Bartenura in Italy."
Dresner spoke in a similar vein. "There are a ton of new wines to choose from," he said.
So … go choose, go enjoy.
Six California bottles to try
New kosher-for-Passover wines reach store shelves every spring. Here we limited our tasting to six California brands introduced in the last year or two. Note: Two of the wines are white, and one is a rose. Red wine is the "preferred beverage" for a Seder, according to the Orthodox Union, a New York-based organization offering community and synagogue services and kosher certification of products. Still, there also is room during the eight days of Passover for other kosher wine varieties. Whether the wine is mevushal (flash pasteurized) or non-mevushal is noted below. We did not rate the wines because of the gamut of styles, flavors and prices.
1. 2006 Herzog Pinot Noir Special Reserve: California's Central Coast is making a name for itself with pinot, and this classic non-mevushal kosher red will only burnish the Edna Valley's reputation. Classic cherry color, a nose of cherry and mushroom with a slight touch of wet earth and a smoky flavor that allowed the cherry flavor to emerge through a foundation of lapsang souchong tea. $35
2. 2008 Covenant Chardonnay Lavan: This new white ("lavan" in Hebrew) from California's Russian River Valley has a big profile. Colored a light golden yellow and with enough oak to leave a buttery impression on the nose, the non-mevushal wine offers up flavors of hay, mushroom and cream. $40
3. 2008 Weinstock Red by W: This blend of California syrah, black muscat and zinfandel is mevushal. Plenty of ripe berry flavor with a slight jammy note, faint nose of candied berries and earth. $10
4. 2008 Weinstock White by W: A mevushal blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay and, interestingly, muscat canelli, from California. The chenin blanc gives the white a citrusy zip, the chardonnay plushes it with a creamy note and the muscat canelli adds a grapey touch. $10
5. 2007 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Red C: This Napa cab, now in its second release, has a big red C emblazoned on its label. "Red C," get it? Darkly colored, this earthy wine offers notes of cherry, pine and lots of black pepper. It is non-mevushal. $40
6. 2008 Weinstock Pink by W: This California mevushal rose is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, zinfandel and muscat canelli. A strawberry-rose pink, the wine offers lots of strawberry flavor spritzed with lime. A little too like punched-up Kool-Aid for most tasters. $10
You want that wine. But your store or area distributor may not carry it. State law may prohibit you from ordering a wine online. What to do? Ask your wine retailer for a wine similar in flavor, style and price. Remember, too, prices vary.