Passover is almost here. We’re scrubbing Casa Avrech top to bottom, switching dishes and silverware, purchasing tons of kosher for Passover food, and shopping for new clothing.
And many are wondering which wines to buy for the Passover seders in which we are commanded to drink four cups of wine.
Seraphic Secret does not drink wine, nor imbibe liquor — ever. The reason? Drink leads to migraines that can flatten yours truly for days. Hence, I have nothing to say about wine.
However, I am well-connected.
Once again, Seraphic Secret has invited first cousin Alice Feiring, the award-winning author and wine critic to sample and recommend the best Passover wines on the market.
Take it away, Alice.
When I attended last year’s Kosher Fest, I didn’t expect to see the usual tattoos and hipsters. But I was surprised to see the room packed with patrons sporting peyos, yarmulkes and sheitels, seeking the latest hot bottle. I joined in.
Tulip? Pass. Way too fat and sloppy for me.
A new cava? Too industrial. Pass.
Minutes later, I was tasting the wines of Netofa (below). A friend who sells for Royal Wine Company said to me, “I love them. Why can’t I get anyone else to?” He then went on to tell me anything that wasn’t back sweetened, rich and oaky was a hard sell.
If you read The Feiring Line and want to avoid the tedious wines that sell best, what do you do for a respectable bottle of kosher wine for the table, whether Shabbos or Passover, that is terroir and not market-driven? I mean, it’s a long night.
To sit there drinking seltzer would be sad.
Rule one: Don’t spend big. Seraphic Secret recently sent me a picture of a Herzog $150 cabernet.
Worth it? Cousin Robert asked.
There’s no real reason to spend over $30, with rare exceptions.
Exception! Santa Cruz’s Four Gates. Benyamin Kantz, is a one-guy show who works the vines and makes the wines. I profiled him in Naked Wine. He’s the real deal and can use your support for his truly artisan wines from certified organic vines. He adds neutral yeast and low-ish sulfurs, but that’s all. Wines range between $38-$46, from the winery direct. Check him out.
Rule two: Consider the need for mevushal. This means a wine has been flash pasteurized. A mevushal wine may be handled by those not Sabbath observing, which is why you’ll find these in kosher restaurants and at bar mitzvahs where the help may not be observant. It is a horrible thing to do to a wine and is only indicated if you’re showing up to a Torah observant household. For the most part, I will go out of my way to avoid them, even though there are three below that are indeed flash-pasteurized. The best thing you can do is call your hosts and ask if mevushal is required or whether any Kosher for Passover wine will do.
Drappier Champagne? It’s a wine I enjoy in its non-kosher version. Well worth the under $50 price point or so for a real Champagne with a hechsher, a kosher certification. This is mevushal.
The crowded Bordeaux category has potential just because there’s a lot to choose from. But be careful — you can spend $70 and more and get a dried-out, poorly-cared-for wine. I’m tempted by the 2002 Leoville Poyferre but the chances it was poorly stored are too great. So, one option I have under $30 was a little dilute but had plenty of earthy bordeaux character (even though mevushal) 2010 Chateau La Clare. Made and produced by Jean Guyon, who recently bought Chateau Greysac.
Domaine Netofa from the southern Galilee is my kosher default.
Winemaker Pierre Miodownick has made a hell of a lot of wine for the big gorilla of the kosher wine world, Royal. But this is his very own and couldn’t be more different than the other recipe driven wines that litter the market. A mourvedre/syrah blend. The gamey syrah shines through. Also getting my best bet for whites is his offering of chenin blanc. It’s got a nice wet wool thing on the nose with a soft, salty apple skin finish.
[Seraphic Secret spent a Shabbos in Moshav Netofa with cousins from Karen’s side of the family. We saw Pierre Miodownick in synagogue, a friendly and distinguished Gerrer chasid. Our Moshav Netofa cousins also proudly rave about Monsieur Miodownick’s wines.]
Domaine Ruhlmann. I don’t have a clue about this Alsatian producer. The vines are grown on granite soils and the grapes are hand-harvested. While I am not crazy about a very grapey quality, which could be the ripe 2009 vintage, nevertheless the wine remains highly quaffable. I would buy it, if only to encourage more kosher wines from Alsace, and I would definitely revisit its 2010 vintage. On Wine-Searcher.com I can only locate the Gewurtz at about $18, also commendable.
Peraj Petita needs to be on your radar. They are my other default. Out of Monstant in Spain so close to Priorat, the value is there for $20. The 2011 is current release but I see there are some 2008 wines. Go for it! This wine and its fancier sibling, Flor de Primavera Perah Ha’abib ($50), do much better with age. The former is my preference, with its mix of grenache, carignane and termpranillo. The fancy bottle has a hefty dose of cabernet and new oak. Why? I don’t have a clue. But if you want a status bottle, this is the one you’re after.
Finally, we come to life from down under, Hunter Valley. Harkham is historically significant, since Richard Harkham is the first total natural wine enthusiast who is also shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant).
When Richie says he makes wines without preservatives, he’s talking about not using sulfur or other additives. The label above (there’s also a shiraz) is mevushal, a concession to Royal, one of his American importers. As chardonnay goes it’s pretty okay — gritty and refreshing. While the pasteurization has taken its toll, snuffing out some of the life, it remains untarnished by oak, and manages to be pithy and have some interest. It might be a match for the hard-to-pair gefilte fish and certainly would swim well with a browned-up capon.
However, the Aziza wines (chardonnay and shiraz) are Richie’s babies. Aziza was the name of his late grandmom. The much-adored matriarch immigrated to Israel in 1929. Nothing but the full-throttle natural stuff would justify invoking her name. For these he teamed up with another importer who agreed to treat the wines more gently and ship in cool containers. The wines have been celebrated by secular reviewers such as Jancis Robinson and Andrew Jefford, and distributed in Australia by the fab wine guy, Andrew Guard. I’ll be watching Richie. He’s the next step for kosher wine.
Anyway, best of luck to you, and remember there is always Slivovitz. I do love the rotgut, have plenty of youthful fond memories, and nothing else gives you that burn. Otherwise, you can always go really cheap with a Golan Sion Red, which is sort of the Hearty Burgundy of the kosher wine world. It is a quaffable no-brainer, does no harm and for 11 bucks, it will do the trick.
Chag sameach, have a happy and kosher Passover, and have fun making the horseradish.
Check out the Feiring Line, for the scoop on real wine!
And to get an in-depth look at the world of wine, Alice’s two books are beautifully written, charming, deeply personal, and filled with characters who seem right out of 1930s screwball comedy. Wine people are… um… seriously eccentric.
(Here’s my completely unbiased review of Naked Wine)