By Alyssa Rapp, Founder and CEO of Bottlenotes.com. First published on Forbes.com
One thing is always certain each year that Passover arrives: adherence to tradition. Not just the Seder dinner itself, with its food and its themes--the modern version of the Ten Plagues would probably involve Bear Sterns, AIG, Chrysler, GM, etc. Seder season also reinvigorates the perennial search for good-tasting Kosher wine.
In Depth: Eight Great-Tasting Kosher Wines
No, "tasty kosher wine" is not an oxymoron. Sure, "kosher wine" has long been thought to be synonymous with Manischewitz, the brand of wines that are extraordinarily sweet and syrupy. No one should be forced to drink four thimbles of it, much less the four cups implicit in each Seder.
Fact of the matter is, the kosher concept as applied to wine is much more complex than an association with "sweet and syrupy," and still results in some great-tasting wines you would never know were kosher from the taste alone. Great-tasting kosher wines can come from Israel as easily as California, Italy or even New Zealand.
The Concept of Kosher Wine
For a wine to be kosher, the vines on which the grapes are grown must be at least four years old and left unharvested every seventh year. Tools used during winemaking must also be in accordance with the practices governing the observation of kosher, and may not be used for purposes outside of winemaking. In addition, these tools may only be used by practicing male Jews. Kosher winemaking in no way negatively affects the quality of wine produced
In other words, it's perfectly normal to find a kosher wine from a classic region that tastes just as good as all the other non-kosher wines made around it.
One such example is Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Marlborough, New Zealand. This wine demonstrates all of the classic attributes of a Marlborough sauvignon blanc: mouth-puckeringly tangy and zesty, with a lemon/lime juice character throughout. If you like New Zealand sauvignon blancs, whether you plan to attend a Passover Seder or not, this wine's for you.
Even in the heart of wine-tradition-loving countries such as Italy, you can find kosher wines. Bartenura Winery makes a delicious, sparkling kosher moscato from the Provence of Pavia. With ultra fine bubbles, this wine dances with effervescence. Without being cloyingly sweet, it is a really tasty way to begin or end any evening, Seder or otherwise.
California's major producer of kosher wine is Herzog Family Vineyards in the Central Coast. Herzog produces several varietals from chardonnay to syrah to cabernet, all of them kosher. The fruit for the 2004 Special Reserve Cabernet comes from the Anderson Valley, and demonstrates notes of black cherry, anise, herb, and chocolate.
Wines from the Homeland
If tradition is of paramount importance at your Seder dinner, no problem--there are some phenomenal kosher wines made in Israel, available in America. One great Israeli producer is Dalton, located in the lush Upper Galilee. An ultra-modern winery (in what looks like an office complex akin to rows of garagiste wineries in the Central Coast of California, where multiple wineries share single, vast warehouses), Dalton makes a super great-value Bordeaux-style blend for $20 called Canaan Red
If you still have a hankering for the sweet stuff, but are a bit tired of Manischewitz, another Israeli winery has a truly innovative wine for you. Down the road from Dalton is Rimon Winery, which makes the region’s truly unique Pomegranate Dessert Wine It's not a gimmick, much as it may look and sound like one. The wine has a dark, black cherry color and overt notes of pomegranate. Rimon has been a crowd-pleaser many a Passover Seder and non-Passover dinner party alike.
Ask at your local wine shop for a good kosher bottle, and you’ll likely find that the wine tastes just as good as any other wine you normally drink. Just remember, no one ever dictated that sticking with tradition at Passover equates drinking bad-tasting wine. In fact, there's never a good excuse for that sort of thing, at the Seder dinner or otherwise.