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American Independents

American Independents

Boutique kosher wines are thriving even in a down economy.

Not too long ago I found myself sitting on an overheated, crowded train heading to a winery. Whenever possible I like to use public transportation when I visit wineries, to avoid driving after tasting. But what made this ride unusual was that it was on a No. 1 train headed to a winery located in Manhattan’s most perennially hip neighborhood, Soho.

While the economy may be bad, many of America’s boutique wineries are thriving. This is particularly true when it comes to kosher wine. Today there are more kosher boutique wineries and kosher garagistes (extremely small production winemakers) than ever before.

In addition to wineries like Covenant and Four Gates, whose wines I have often reviewed in this space, there are a number of new producers: Jonathan Hajdu, whose outstanding Brobdingnagian Syrah I reviewed in April, or Craig Winchell, former owner/winemaker of the late, lamented Gan Eden Winery, who recently became the winemaker for Auga Dulce Vineyards, and is in the process of converting it into a kosher winery.

On my trip into Soho I was headed to Michael Dorf’s City Winery. City Winery is a unique combination of a wine bar, boutique winery, and performance space, which opened in early 2009. In addition to a wine menu that includes an impressive list of kosher wines, City Winery produces five kosher wines of its own, all made of grapes from well-known vineyards in California and Oregon. These grapes are harvested at night, chilled to 34 degrees Farenheit, and shipped across country in refrigerated trucks. (Disclosure: Michael Dorf is a Jewish Week board member and City Winery hosts the paper’s annual Wine Tasting.)

So for this month’s Fruit of the Vine, I tasted six wines from some of the country’s smallest kosher wine producers, and the experience was unique: This was first tasting, since I started writing this column more than five years ago, in which every wine I tasted was truly excellent.

The best wine in the tasting was Covenant’s 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the Larkmead vineyard, this rich, full-bodied, bright garnet-colored wine has a big nose of cherries, cranberries, cassis, and toasty oak, with hints of pipe tobacco, cedar, eucalyptus and spice. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, red currents, and blackberries, with hints of mocha and anise. Drinking well now, with luscious, silky tannins, this wine should be able to age for at least another decade.

Perhaps the most interesting wine in the tasting was the kosher edition of City Winery’s Spring Street Pinot Noir. Made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and aged for 11 months in French Oak, this medium- to full-bodied, ruby- to garnet-colored wine has a flavor and aroma dominated by red cherries, with elements of salad greens, oak and cedar, and hints of pepper and cherry eau de vie. Although drinking well now, the wine is still a bit tight, and will only start to be at its best in about another year, and should then cellar comfortably until at least 2016.

At their best, boutique wineries and garagistes offer the consumer an opportunity to taste distinctive wines made by passionate winemakers. So the next time you’re in the mood for a bit of something that’s just a little bit different, instead of buying a wine from some exotic country, think about buying an exotic wine from one of America’s kosher boutique wineries. You won’t regret it.

Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.

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