Passover is traditionally the make-or-break season for the kosher wine industry, and as a result it’s also the time to roll out exciting new products. Many kosher consumers will go all-out for Passover meals, seemingly buying at least enough wine to drown a small dog; likewise, a good many kosher wine lovers, familiar with the rhythms of the kosher market sales and promotions, know this is the time to stock up on kosher wines for the months ahead, too.
The simplest way to approach the vast sea of kosher wine options is to start with new releases from tried-and-tested producers. Hagafen Cellars in Napa, Calif., for example, is always one of my favorite go-to producers — and it has recently released its latest vintage and introduced new, better-looking labels, too, for the aesthetically minded (now these great wines will look even better on your table). I’m also a big fan of the Covenant wines, whether from California or Israel.
Speaking of Israel, one can’t go too far wrong with the wines of Domaine du Castel, Flam, Jezreel Valley, G’vaot, Recanati, Shiloh, Vitkin, Yatir, Dalton, Matar by Pelter and the Golan Heights Winery, among many others. Of particular note is the return to the U.S. of the wonderful boutique Gush Etzion Winery, now imported by the Royal Wine Corp. — its whites are always worth pursuing, and a bunch of the reds are great too. Also of note is the new Hayotzer winery(imported by Allied Importers USA), the quality table wine offshoot of the comparatively ancient Kiddush-wine producing Arza winery. There are also, now, some intriguing Israeli garagiste wines being exclusively imported by the folks at kosherwine.com, which should make for some rollicking exploration, too.
One other note to keep in mind: The new 2015 vintage of higher-end kosher Bordeaux wines has hit the U.S. market. This is a great vintage, and many of these wines are stupendously good, but very few of them will make for really great drinking this Passover except for the most hardened wine-geek oenophile; they require additional cellaring to mature towards their ideal drinking windows. So don’t hesitate to buy these wines now, but don’t expect to drink most of them anytime soon — or be prepared to decant and aerate them so it won’t simply be an inky, tannic, acidic and overly aggressive assault on the average drinker’s palate. I note a couple of exceptions below.
That said, perhaps the very best of the generally great 2015 kosher Bordeaux bunch is not yet ready to drink:
Château Lascombes, Margaux, Grand cru, 2015 ($125): A lovely, complex, voluptuous, elegant wine with aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry, pepper, espresso, licorice, a little smoke and a touch of leather, some nicely mushroomy earthiness, with good acidity, gripping tannins and significant oak; it should all integrate nicely to support the ripe, sweet and overall delicious fruit. Consider opening in four to five years’ time to sample if you buy plenty, or wait seven to eight years if you only buy a bottle or two. Soon to be widely available, check online at Kosherwine.com or at your favorite kosher wine purveyor.
Here are suggestions for this year’s Passover table:
Whites & Rosés
Contessa Annalisa, Gavi di Gavi DOCG, (produced by Marchese Luca Spinola), 2016 ($16; mevushal): Crisp, clean, cool, simple, light and refreshing; it is delicately aromatic — with a whiff of yellow apples, green melon and jasmine flowers, with a pleasing slightly chalky minerality on the palate along with notes of apple, apricot, melon, subtle almond and, with a little time in the glass, vanilla and perhaps a subtle kiss of linden honey. A lovely, balanced, highly pleasurable wine. Serve as an aperitif or with salad, pasta with pesto and the like. Available at Skyview Wine and Liquor, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale, (718) 601-8222 and 67th Street Wine, 179 Columbus Ave. at 68th Street, (212) 724-6767
Borgo Reale, Rose Wine, Puglia, 2017 ($14; mevushal): This pleasing, straightforward and light-bodied rosé is floral and fruity, with aromas of apricot, peach and ripe cherry, followed by flavors of sour cherry, nectarine, raspberry, melon and a touch of cranberry. This is a simple quaffer, but very tasty, well crafted, refreshing and a great value. Available at Gotham Wines & Liquors, 2517 Broadway, (212) 932-0990.
Vignobles David, Le Mourre de l’Isle, Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 2016 ($17-$19): This balanced, floral, rich, refreshing blend of 40 percent roussanne, 30 percent viognier and 30 percent grenache blanc offers aromas of acacia flowers and stone fruits, with strong notes of white-fleshed stone fruits on the palate; this invigorating, generous, tasty wine is both serious and seriously delicious. This is the first kosher Côtes du Rhône blanc to hit the U.S. market, and it’s not to be missed. Soon to be widely available, check online at Kosherwine.com or at your favorite kosher wine purveyor.
Castel, La Vie, Blanc Du Castel, 2016 ($23): A charming blend of 50 percent sauvignon blanc, 45 percent chardonnay and 5 percent gewurztraminer, this is easy drinking, fruity with a refreshing citrus zing and balanced enough to hold nicely together. A tad pricey, but not terribly so, and overall yummy. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 793-6629 and Beacon Wines, 2020 Broadway at 74th Street, (212) 877-0028
Gefen Hashalom, Weingut von Hövel, Saar Riesling, Kabinett, 2015 ($40): This first kosher wine from the illustrious German producer to hit the U.S., and only his second vintage dabbling in kosher wine so far, is fabulous. It exhibits a powerful, ripe, smoky, flinty, slate nose, with under-ripe stone fruits, honeysuckle, tart apples and herbs. The aromatic intensity is matched on the elegant, rich and rounded palate by crunchy, mineral infused stone fruits, green apples, a little spice, some tropical fruit juices; it’s all balanced by a tangy, persistent acidity and just enough sweetness to maintain a beautiful tension throughout. Drinking very well now, it’ll start to show its best in another four years, and then should mature nicely for another 10-15 years after that, perhaps longer. Available at Taste Wine Co, 50 Third Ave., (212) 461-1708.
Koenig, Crémant d’Alsace (Non-Vintage) ($30; mevushal): Charming and delicious, this Alsatian sparkler is clean and brisk with aromas and flavors of citrus, apple, melon and white peach, with fine, creamy and assertive bubbles that tingle the senses and drive home a lemony goodness. Available at Wine Chateau, 85 Central Ave., Metuchen, N.J., (800) 946-3190. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden Rosé, Brut, 2011 ($40): A delightful blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir, this lightly-pinkish beauty offers aromas of citrus (lemon and perhaps grapefruit), strawberries, stone fruits and brioche, all draped in flowers. Most of this reappears on the fine, brisk and effervescent palate along with sour cherries, baked apple, ripe pears, almonds and lemon peel. The bubbles are nicely sharp and concentrated, and the acidity is zippy and zingy, keeping it all fresh, refreshing and nicely balanced. Available at Best Buy Liquors, 1613 Neptune Ave. Brooklyn (718) 265-4350 and Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 793-6629.
Hagafen, Brut Rose, 2015 ($48; mevushal): This charming, aromatic, pink sparkler is brilliant, refreshing and gorgeously balanced, offering delightful aromas and entertaining flavors of freshly picked strawberry, sliced watermelon, stone fruits and brioche. This is simply beautiful and dangerously gluggable. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 793-6629.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Brut, Non-vintage, Kosher Edition ($80): This first-rate, light-to-medium-bodied bubbly is refined and balanced, yet fun and easy, with fine, concentrated, endless bubbles and notes of citrus peel, minerals and nuts, all with a lovely dollop of fresh berries in the lengthy finish. This is superb champagne! Available at Garnet Wines & Liquors, 929 Lexington Ave., (212) 772-3212 and Columbus Avenue Wines & Spirits, 730 Columbus Ave., (212) 865-7070.
Vitkin, Red Israeli Journey, 2016 ($24): This lovely, bright, supple, fresh and refreshing blend of carignan from Mount Carmel, and syrah, cabernet franc and marselan from the Upper Galilee, showcases red and dark fruits, sweet spices and Mediterranean herbs, and has enough contemplative oomph to engage the senses and accompany meaty Israeli foods. Available at Taste Wine Co, 50 Third Ave. (212) 461-1708.
Château Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2015 ($30): This is juicy, relatively complex, earthy and well-balanced, with aromas and flavors of dark berries, black currants, cherries, raspberries and dried plums, and wisps of earthy forest floor and subtle smoke and a little cocoa, too. This is a lovely and affordable example of the great 2015 vitnage that is ready to drink now (though it too will reward a few years of cellaring). Yummy, and solid value. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Gva’ot, Vineyard Dance, Shomron, 2016 ($34): This fresh, clean, medium-bodied, enjoyable blend — 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent merlot, 20 percent petit verdot and 18 percent cabernet franc — offers notes of rich, ripe, dark fruits, anise, black pepper and Mediterranean spice, and a little toasted oak in the backdrop; with distinct and deeply drying, yet smoothly integrating tannins and nice balancing acidity; this generous beauty seems a wonderfully Mediterranean rendition of an otherwise Bordeaux blend. Drinking swell now, but should continue to integrate and become more harmonious for those with patience to wait. Serve with meaty dishes. Available at Westchester Wine Warehouse, 53 Tarrytown Road, White Plains, (914) 824-1400 and online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Clos Lavaud, Lalande-de-Pomerol, 2014 ($40): This latest release from Christophe Bardeau, the winemaker of Domaine Roses Camille, made from 94 percent Merlot and 6 percent cabernet sauvignon grown in Lalande-de-Pomerol (the adjoining appellation), is wonderful with dark fruits, mushroomy earthiness, some spice and subtle oak-influence (though perhaps from staves or chips rather than from aging barrel); overall nicely balanced; pleasing finish. Drink now. Available online directly from the importer, www.liquidkosher.com; distributed in NY via Allied Importers USA.
Château Fontenil, Fronsac, 2015 ($55): This first kosher release from the estate of famed global winemaker and consultant Michel Rolland does not disappoint. It is supple, silky, soft, fresh and complex with spice, wet earth, sweet plum and black cherry notes; tannins are felt and plentiful, but the acidity is fine and good; this is still integrating and won’t be fully mature for a few years, but is already showing poise and elegance and makes for lovely drinking already. Available at Westchester Wine Warehouse, 53 Tarrytown Road, White Plains, (914) 824-1400. Available online from www.Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.