Attending last year's Kosher Fest, I didn't expect to see the usual tattoos and hipsters. But I was surprised to see the room packed with patrons sporting pais, yalmukes and sheitles, seeking the latest hot bottle. I joined in. Tulip? (Pass--way too fat and sloppy for me).
A new cava? (Too industrial. Pass).
Minutes later I was tasting the wines of Netofa (below).
A friend who sells for Royal Wine Company said to me, "I love them. Why can't I get anyone else to?"
He then proceded to tell me that any wine that wasn't back sweetened, rich and oaky was a hard sell.
So, that brings us to...if you read The Feiring Line, and want to avoid the dreck , what are the solutions to the kosher cunundrum? Whether for Shabbos or Passover, that is terroir and not market-driven? I mean, it's a long night. To sit there drinking seltzer would be sad.
Rule one: Don't spend big. My Los Angeles-based cousin recently sent me a picture of a Herzog $150 cabernet. Worth it, he asked?
There's no real reason to spend over $30 with rare exception. Exception! Santa Cruz's Four Gates. Benyamin Kantz, is a one guy show, works the vines, makes the wines. I profiled him in Naked Wine. He's the real deal and can use your support for his truly artisan wines from certified organic vines. He adds neutral yeast and low-ish sulfurs, but that's all. Wines range between $38-$46, from the winery direct. Check him out.
Rule two: Consider the need for mevushal. This means a wine has been flash pasteurized. Why? Because this Draconian process allows those who are not Sabbath observing to handle the bottles, open them, pour them. This is why you'll find these kind in kosher restaurants and at bar mitzvahs. It is a horrible thing to do to a wine and is only indicated if showing up to a very frum household.
For the most part, I will go out of my way to avoid, even though, with some begrudging, there are three below that are thus acursed. The best thing you can do is call your hosts and ask if mevushal is required or whether any Kosher for Passover wine will do. One day the Rabbi's will get rid of this custom and it's long overdue.
Drappier Champagne? It's a wine I enjoy in its non-kosher version. Well worth the under $50 price point or so for a real Champagne with a hechsher. This is mevushal.
2010 Chateau La Clare ($30)
The crowded Bordeaux category has potential, just because there's a lot to choose from. But be careful, you can spend $70 and over and get a dried out, poorly cared for wine. I'm tempted by the 2002 Leoville Poyferre but the chances it was poorly stored are too great. So, one option I have under $30. Ch. La Clare was a little dilute but had plenty of earthy bordeaux character (even though mevushal) Made and produced by Jean Guyon who recently bought Chateau Greysac.
Domaine Netofa ($20)
from the southern Galilee is my kosher default. Winemaker, Pierre Miodownick has made a hell of a lot of wine for the big gorilla of the kosher wine world, Royal. But this is his very own and couldn't be more different than the other recipe driven wines that litter the market. A mourvedre/syrah blend. The gamey syrah shines through. Also getting my best bet for whites is his offering of chenin blanc. It's got a nice wet wool thing on the nose with a soft, salty apple skin finish.
Domaine Ruhlmann ($18)
I don't have a clue about this Alsatian producer. The vines are grown on granite soils and the grapes are hand-harvested. What I am not crazy about a very grapey quality, which could be the ripe '09 vintage, but never the less, but yet the wine remains highly quaffable. I would buy it if only to encourage more kosher wines from Alsace and revisit in 2010. On Wine-Searcher.com I can only locate the gewurtz at about $18, also commendable.
Peraj Petita ($20-$50)
needs to be on your radar. They are my other default. Out of Monstant in Spain, so close to Priorat, the value is there for $20. The 2011 is current release but I see there are some 2008 wines. Go for it! This and its fancier sibling ($50) Flor de Primavera Perah Ha'abib do much better with age. The former, is my preference with its a mix of grenache, carignane and termpranillo.The fancy bottle has a hefty dose of cabernet and new oak. Why? I don't have a clue. But if you want a status bottle, this is the one you're after.
Finally we come to life from down -under, Hunter Valley.
Harkham Winery (Under $20)
This is historically significant as Richard Harkham is the first total natural wine enthusiast who is also shomer shabbos. When Richie says he makes wines without preservatives, he's not talking about condoms but about using no sulfur or other additives. The label above (there's also a shiraz) is mevushal, a concession to Royal, one of his American importers. As chardonnay goes it's pretty okay; gritty and refreshing. While the pasteurization has taken its toll, snuffing out some of the life, it remains untarnished by oak and manages to be pithy and have some interest, it might be a match for the hard to pair gefilte fish, and certainly would swim well with a browned up capon.
However, the Aziza wines (chardonnay and shiraz) are Richie's babies. Aziza was the name of his late Grandmom. The much adored matriarch emigrated to Israel in 1929. Nothing but the full-throttle natural stuff would justify invoking her name. For these he teamed up with another importer who agreed to treat the wines more gently and ship in cool containers. The wines have been celebrated by secular reviewers such as Jancis and Andrew Jefford and in Australia is distributed by the fab wine guy, Andrew Guard. I'll be watching Richie. He's the next step for kosher wine.
Anyway, best of luck to you and remember there is always Slivovitz. I do love the rot gut, have plenty of youthful fond memories and nothing else gives you that burn. Otherwise, you can always go really cheap with a Golan Sion Red--which is sort of the Hearty Burgundy of the Kosher wine world. It is a quaffable no-brainer, do no harm and for $11 bucks? It will do the trick. Chag semeach, and have fun making the horseradish.