Five years ago last week, The Jewish Week published the first installment of this column. At the time, the kosher wine industry was at the peak of a boom, with a new kosher winery opening almost every month. Yet no American newspaper was then regularly writing about kosher wine, except before Passover and Rosh HaShanah.
So, not surprisingly, when I started writing the “Fruit of the Vine” column, I was regularly asked, often incredulously, if there was really enough to kosher wine out there to fill a monthly column. The answer then, as now, is an unambiguous “yes.” Indeed, since starting this column, I have had the opportunity to taste more than 1,000 kosher wines — some that I never want to forget, and some that I truly wish I could.
In that first column in May 2005, I reviewed five kosher Syrahs from California, and for this month’s column I thought it would be a good time to take another look at domestic Syrah.
Syrah (also known as Shiraz) is a black grape believed to have emerged from France’s Rhone Valley more than 2,000 years ago, and today is one of the world’s most popular varietal wine grapes. When well made, Syrah wines tend to have smoky, peppery, cherry and blackberry flavors.
For this month’s column I tasted six kosher American Syrahs, all of which were very good, and a few of which were excellent.
The real standout was the 2007 Brobdingnagian Santa Barbara County Syrah. Made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate winemaker at Covenant Wines, and named for the giants of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” this luscious, full-bodied, dark-and-inky wine has a truly intriguing bouquet. At first the nose is dominated by cherries, blackberries, and an I-know-not-what earthy element. As the wine opens up this makes way for aromas of cranberries, mint, violets, nutmeg and smoky cedar. Look for flavors of cherries, cranberries, black pepper and cedar, with an herbal undertone and a hint of sweetened espresso on the finish. Best 2011-2016.
Also excellent was Prix Vineyards’ 2005 Reserve Napa Valley/Sonoma Valley Syrah. Dark garnet in color, with a medium-to-full body, this delightful Syrah has a nose of black cherries and wild flowers with a whiff of fresh herbs. Look for flavors of black cherries, herbs de Provence, crème de framboise and mocha, with a nice hint of smoke. Drink now to 2013.
Syrah tends to be very food friendly, it makes a particularly nice accompaniment to rich beefy dishes. So the next time you sit down eat to a big, juicy steak, think about opening a bottle of kosher American Syrah. You won’t regret it.
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