The Foodie: Great Kosher Wines
If you're visiting a Jewish home for Passover or any other festive occastion, it might be a good idea to pick up a bottle of kosher wine. There's more to kosher wine these days than Manischewitz or Kedem; it's a rapidly growing sector of the market that includes fine wines from all over the world.
In 2007, the "Kosher" designation edged out "All Natural" and "No Additives or Preservatives" to become the most popular claim found on new consumer food products in 2007, says Mintel's Global New Products Database, which monitors packaged goods worldwide. Still, it’s hard to find any article about kosher wine that doesn’t start off by exclaiming that “it ain’t just Manischewitz anymore.”
But you may already know that sophisticated/enjoyable/delicious—even award-winning— kosher wine is being produced in regions as diverse as France, Israel, California, Australia, Spain and South Africa. Perhaps you even know, thanks to folks like Nextbook’s Sara Ivry, what makes wine kosher and when kosher wine started catching up to its nonkosher counterpart.
What you need to know, especially with Passover and its traditional four cups looming, is which ones are worth your time and taste buds (and which ones taste more like bitter herbs). Ivry’s piece isn’t a bad start, as it finishes up with notes on a few wines she tasted with friends. A similar article at the Jewish culture Web site Jewcy, entitled “Kosher Wine Doesn’t Have to Suck,” typically reveals both disbelief at the improved quality of kosher wine and a bit of background on its laws and history. At the end you’ll find a short list of some excellent wines and the author’s decidedly plainspoken notes on each.
As informative and entertaining as articles like these can be, they spend so much time educating readers on the industry that they have little room left for reviews. For more reviews and advice, we turn to the real experts: publications like Wine Enthusiast magazine. “Not Your Grandpa's Kosher Wine” waxes poetic about kosher wine while recommending several wineries, if not specific bottles. Even more helpful, however, are the magazine’s ratings of dozens of kosher wines in a wide range of prices. Typing “kosher” into the search field on the site’s Wine Ratings page turns up more than 100 results, each one clickable for detailed notes.
Another beacon is The Wall Street Journal’s authoritative but friendly “Tastings” column that presents an annual feature on kosher wines ahead of Passover. In 2008, writers Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher focused on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, and provided brief but helpful notes on several of each type. The pair also has praise for Goose Bay’s pinot noir.
Still need more? Check with Wine Tasting Guy, a blog written by a fledgling wine professional who has a bit of an obsession with Israeli wines (kosher and non). His March 26, 2008, post details his recommendations for kosher reds broken down by price range. Not surprisingly, all the wines mentioned are produced in Israel.
Don’t confuse Wine Tasting Guy with Kosher Wine Guy, whose blog hasn’t been updated in quite a while but whose color-coded reviews of dozens of specific wines couldn’t be easier to navigate or to understand. Perhaps the site’s best feature, however, is the chart of food and wine pairings. You’ve seen such lists before, but never one that includes such staples of kosher cuisine as chicken soup and gefilte fish. The author gets into the details, recommending not only varietals (types of grapes) but also specific wines.
So now that you know what to buy, you’ll need to know where to find it. Royal Wine Corp., a major producer, importer and distributor of kosher wine, has a short list of links to good places to buy kosher wine online. (The site appears to be under renovation, but the links are still there.) Our favorite among them is KosherWine.com, a site that not only tends to have the best combination of selection and price but also has customer reviews for many of its wines. And yes, they even sell Manischewitz.