“What is your favorite sort of wine?” As a wine writer I’m asked this question frequently — and I’m always flustered when I try to find an answer. It’s so hard to choose one variety of grape or wine production style, out of such a broad world of choices; and different sorts of wines go with different meals, different activities and different moods. Yet, surprisingly, no one has ever asked me the corresponding question, “What is your favorite sort of winery?” For that, I have an easy, one word answer: “small.”
While good wines come from all sorts of wineries, big and small, (and indeed some of the very best kosher wines come from some of the biggest producers in the industry, such as Carmel and Herzog), I find that there is something so very exciting in tasting wines made by someone who started making wine in a basement or garage; someone who has not only put labor into winemaking, but also personal capital. It is such winemakers who often produce the most interesting wines I get to taste.
So for this month’s Fruit of the Vine I tasted eight wines from four of America’s smallest kosher wine producers. All of the wines were good, all of the wines were interesting, and a few of them were truly excellent.
One of the best wines in the tasting was winemaker Jonathan Hajdu’s 2010 Brobdingnagian Petite Sirah. Hajdu, who is primarily employed as the Associate Winemaker for Covenant Wines, a kosher wine producer located in the Napa Valley, makes his own wines under the Brobdingnagian label. The wines are named for the giants in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” and that choice of name seems particularly appropriate for this Petite Sirah, which is a colossus of a wine. Rich and very full-bodied, with an inky color that falls between dark garnet and royal purple, this complex yet supple wine has a jam-like bouquet of black cherries, red currents, raspberries, kirshwasser, mocha, and smoky oak. Look for flavors of cherries, raspberries, boysenberries, kirshwasser, bitter chocolate, and a lively note of spice. With an abundance of satiny tannins, this wine is approachable now, but will only be at its best starting in 2014, and should then be able to cellar until the end of the decade. This is perhaps the best wine Hajdu has produced to date, and it is certainly the best kosher Petite Sirah I have ever tasted.
$55. Available directly from the winemaker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Also excellent was Benyamin Cantz’s 2009 Four Gates Winery Pinot Noir. Located on a picturesque hillside in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Cantz’s Four Gates Winery has been producing kosher wine from grapes grown in its small non-irrigated vineyard since 1997. Four Gates’ 2009 Pinot Noir is a full-bodied garnet colored wine, with a still tight nose of red cherries, cassis and blackberries, with notes of leather and brier. Look for flavors of cherries, blackberries, plums, raspberries and oak, with a hint of crème de cassis and faint herbal element in the background. This wine, which is arguably the winemaker’s best Pinot Noir to date, still needs more time to develop, and will be at it best from late 2013-2018.
$36. Available directly from the winery,  457-2673, www.fourgateswine.com.
At Virginia’s Molon Lave Vineyards, Owner/Winemaker Louizos Papadopoulos, in partnership with his long time friend, Avi Jacobowitz, started producing kosher wines in 2010. Molon Lave’s (which means “come and get it” in ancient Greek) 2010 Riesling is a bone-dry, light bodied, straw colored wine, with a pleasant bouquet redolent of lychees, pears, and lemons and a whiff of spice. Look for a dry lemon-like flavor with just a hint of honeydew melon on the palate. Ready to drink now, this wine should be consumed within the next 18 months.
$18. Available directly from winery,  439-5460, www.molonlavevineyards.com
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, at AlexEli Vineyard & Winery, Phil Kramer, the winery’s 28-year-old vintner/winemaker/co-owner started making kosher wine in 2010. The winery’s first kosher release, its 2010 Pinot Noir, is a light-to-medium bodied wine, with a color falling somewhere between dark-rose and ruby. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, strawberries, and black licorice. The wine is unfortunately marred by a somewhat off-putting green element. This Pinot Noir would perhaps be best served slightly chilled, and would be a good choice to serve with picnic-style foods. Drink within the next two years.
$36. Available directly from the winery,  829-6677, www.alexeli.com
Wines from small producers, such as these, may be difficult to procure. Yet that little bit of extra effort is often very worthwhile.
Please note: Wines are scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the prices at the retailer mentioned.