For the kosher wine industry, the lead-up to Passover is what the run-up to New Year’s Eve is for the sparkling wine industry — a time of big sales and bigger hype. Not surprisingly, this is also the time of year when the greatest number of new kosher wines hit the market.
For this month’s Fruit of the Vine we sampled a number of these new wines, and found eight priced under $50 that were worth seeking out.
Three red wines in the tasting were standouts. The best was Recanati’s 2011 Reserve Wild Carignan. Made from Carignan grapes grown on unirrigated, head-pruned vines in the Judean Hills, and possessing a dark garnet color and a full body, the wine’s delightful bouquet is redolent of cassis, cherries, boysenberries and pencil shavings, with an intriguing note of smoked meat. Look for flavors of cherries cassis, plums, cedar, oak and anise, with a nice earthy note on the finish. Well-structured, with an abundance of silky tannins, this wine is drinking well now, and should continue to do so until 2018.
Score A/A-. ($48.95. Available at Skyview Wine and Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale,  759-8466)
Also excellent was Barkan’s 2011 Special Reserve Winemakers Choice Shiraz. This is the second vintage of a new series of mid-priced wines from Barkan. Made from Shiraz grapes grown in the Upper Galilee and Judean Hills and aged in oak for a year, this full-bodied, garnet-colored wine has an oaky nose with hints of spice. Cherries, raspberries and strawberries dominate the flavor, which also has a note of chocolate, and a pleasant background of toasty oak. This Shiraz is drinking well now and should continue to do so for the next three years.
Score A-. ($21.59. Available at Wine Legend, 277 Eisenhower Parkway, Livingston, N.J.,  992-4441)
The third standout red was Lewis Pasco’s 2012 Pasco Project #1. Pasco is best known as the founding winemaker for the Recanati Winery, a position he left in 2008. Recently he started making a small amount of wine under his own label, and this is his first release. The 2012 Pasco Project #1, is a bright garnet-colored, full-bodied cuvée of 59 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 37 percent Merlot and 4 percent Petite Sirah, all made with grapes grown in Israel’s Shomron region. The nose is still tight, with elements of cherries and smoky oak. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, blackberries, and blueberries on the fore-palate, notes of eucalyptus and allspice mid-palate, a nice bit of smoke on the finish, and a pleasant oaky overlay. While drinking well now, this wine could use another six to nine months in the cellar. Best 2015-2017, and perhaps longer.
Score A-/B+. ($24.95. Available at Sherry-Lehmann, 505 Park Ave., Manhattan,  838-7500)
There were also two real standout whites. The best was Shiloh’s 2012 Chardonnay. Made from grapes grown in the Judean Hills then fermented and aged in French oak, this vibrant, medium-bodied, straw-colored Chardonnay has flavors and aromas of peaches, apples and cream, with notes of heather, lemon verbena and spice. Well-made and refreshing, this wine should drink well for two or three more years.
Score A-. ($19.99. Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, L.I.,  374-9643)
The other notable white was Freixenet’s Excelencia Kosher Cava Brut. We first wrote about this Spanish sparkler last month. However at the time we had only tasted the non-mevushal (unheated) version. We have since tasted the mevushal cuvée, which is the version on sale in the U.S. This dark straw-colored Cava has a rich mousse of large bubbles, and a bouquet of peaches apricots and lychees with a pleasant hint of oiled leather. Look for flavors of peaches, apricots and cantaloupe, with a yeasty overtone, and notes of lemon and cream on the finish.
Score B+. ($15.99. Gotham Wines and Liqours, 2517 Broadway, Manhatta,  932-0990)
Three bargain-priced wines were really worth noting, two of them from the Carmel Selected series, Carmel’s first series of varietal wines. For decades they were often mediocre, at best. However two wines from their 2013 vintage really caught my attention.
Carmel’s 2013 Selected Sauvignon Blanc is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Galilee. Light bodied and straw colored, the wine has a deceptively sweet nose of kiwi, lichee, pineapple and honeysuckle. Yet the wine is dry and crisp with flavors of kiwi, grapefruit and lichee. Drink within the next year.
Score B/B+. ($10.99. Available at Wine Legend, 277 Eisenhower Parkway, Livingston, N.J.,  992-4441.)
Carmel’s 2013 Selected Cabernet Sauvignon is a light-to-medium bodied, ruby-to-garnet-colored Cabernet made from grapes grown in the Shomron. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, mixed berries, salad greens, a slight hint of espresso and a modicum of powdery tannins. Drink within the next 18 months.
Score B. ($8.95. Available at Skyview Wine and Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave, Riverdale,  759-8466.)
The final budget wine of note was Barkan’s Classic Malbec. With a bright-garnet color, and a medium to full body, this fun, fruit-forward Israeli Malbec has flavors and aromas of cranberries, cherries, plums, pepper and spice. Drink now through 2015.
Score B/B+. ($9.97. Available at the Wine Library, 586 Morris Ave., Springfield, N.J.,  376-0005.) n
Note: Wines were 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 price at the retailer mentioned.