Luckily for jarred gefilte fish, there is something even nastier to taste buds during Passover: The mere mention of kosher wine still produces a gag reflex among many Jewish oenophiles who grew up with Manischewitz and Mogen David. You might be wondering why anyone sitting at the kiddie table was nipping at this sickly sweet stuff, but that is another story.
What makes a wine kosher? From harvest to bottling, only observant Jews may take part in the physical production of the wine, no matter the time of year. Kosher for Passover means that the wine cannot have touched any type of yeast or other product that can cause rising.
Then there is mevushal kosher, a process whereby the wine is cooked. The advantage here is that once it is so converted, anyone, Jewish or not, can handle the wine. On the other hand, this process changes the character of the wine — and not for the better. A flash-pasteurization technique that is not as wine-altering is sometimes used.
New York state, the home of both Manischewitz and Mogen David, has cornered the kosher market for Passover for many years, with even Israeli wines (not all of which are kosher) taking a back seat.
Now kosher wines are made all over the world. Many are drinkable considering that they are in a restrictive category; however, a number are good wines that just happen to be kosher.
I was introduced to Yarden’s wines in 1990 when I spent several months in Israel. At the time, they were considered the best in the country and are still among the most revered. While they do make wines that are kosher for Passover, they are not meshuval. Several labels are made in Israel under Yarden’s umbrella:
Yarden Blanc de Blancs, 2007 (Golan): This austere sparkling wine is one of my favorites outside of Champagne. Crisp and delicate with brioche, almond and citrus, it is worth stocking up on, kosher or not. Suggested retail: $30
Gilgal Chardonnay, 2009 (Golan): Named after an ancient stone structure that is kind of like the Stonehenge of the area, Gilgal is the newest addition to the Yarden portfolio. California chardonnay drinkers should enjoy its apple fruit and creme brulee finish. Suggested retail: $12
Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 (Golan): Tried and true, Yarden’s sauvignon blanc is the wine you should get if you are having a large seder, as it will please a range of palates. With fresh grapefruit, peaches and tropical notes, it is bright and lively and goes down easy. Suggested retail: $15
Yarden Gewurztraminer, 2011 (Golan): A semidry, lean style of gewürztraminer, you might think this wine was from Alsace if you tried it blind. It hits all the right notes — tea rose in the nose and lychee, grapefruit and apricots, with just the right amount of balance. Suggested retail: $17
Galil Shiraz-Cabernet, 2009 (Golan): Aged in American oak, this is a dead ringer for a South Australian shiraz-cabernet blend. Jammy and dense on the palate, with plums and berries and a subtle hint of black olives, zinfandel drinkers will enjoy this wine. Suggested retail: $20
Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (Israel): This is a typical New World-style cabernet sauvignon. While it may not be that distinct, it’s well made and will certainly please cab drinkers with its bastion of cassis, plums, vanilla and spice. Suggested retail: $30
Covenant Sauvignon Blanc, Red C, Allan Nelson Vineyard, 2012 (Dry Creek Valley): Proprietors Jeff and Jodie Morgan and Leslie Rudd were experienced vignerons before going down the kosher wine path, and it shows.
Unoaked, this is a very good example of crisp, warm-climate sauvignon blanc, with fresh stone fruits, pink grapefruit and passionfruit. Suggested retail: $24
Chateau Le Petite Chaban, 2011 (Bordeaux, France): This is a tasty Bordeaux blend with modest aspirations, but it delivers with plenty of terroir and fruit. Meshuval kosher. Suggested retail: $17
Borgo Reale Primitivo, 2008 (Puglia, Italy): Ripe with chocolate and an array of herbs, this medium-bodied wine will appeal to those who like higher-acid reds. Meshuval kosher. Suggested retail: $20
Cellars Capcanes Peraj Petita, 2011 (Montsant, Spain): Cellars Capcanes has a range that includes both kosher and nonkosher wines. Made from old-vine garnacha and cariñena, with 20 percent tempranillo, it has juicy red berries, tobacco and a fair bit of tannin. Meshuval kosher. Suggested retail: $20
Some of these wines can be found at Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits, K&L Wine Merchants, Sonoma Wine Shop, Mollie Stone’s, Oakland Kosher Foods and Wine Impressions.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.