Ask a seasoned, Passover-celebrating wine drinker what kosher wines they recommend. Expect an ironic laugh and a “life’s too short to drink kosher wines” response.
In fact, the kosher wine category has improved dramatically since Manischewitz became the Passover table cliche. A major contributor to kosher wine’s bad reputation is boiling, so it can be mevushal (‘cooked’), and thus handled by non-Sabbath-observing Jews while remaining kosher; not surprisingly, boiling wine, as with boiling anything, kills the complex flavors. Innovations in technology over the last decade have helped. A new process called flash détente quickly heats and cools grapes after they’re harvested, retaining more flavor while ensuring a kosher designation.
Market forces have helped, too. More top-notch vintners are jumping through the hoops to gain kosher certification and paying more attention to kosher wines. Having surpassed the one-and-done-dinner mentality, the kosher category now encompasses bottles from elite Napa vintners. Even basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire, a self-described “culturally Jewish” wine lover, has introduced a kosher 2015 Chateau Lascombes grand cru through his Stoudemire Cellars.
Here, experts from notable wine stores in New York, Los Angeles, and Florida weigh in on wines they’re recommending to customers for Passover—and even for nights that aren’t major Jewish holidays.
Wally’s co-owner Christian Navarro has seen sales of kosher wines increase by more than 200 percent over the past decade. “The most accurate way to describe Passover wine was traditionally ‘drek,’” he says. “Now technology has caught up with kosher wine. There are some spectacular bottles that are shockingly delicious and with great value.” Even though he’s not Jewish (“My name is Christian, after all”), Navarro will happily drink the wines he recommends.
2015 Marciano Estate Terra Gratia Red, Napa Valley ($110)
“The greatest kosher wine in the world right now is coming from Napa Valley. It’s made just like tête de cuvée [a premium, first pressed] cult wine, and the 2015 is a great vintage. If I served it to you in a blind tasting of California cabs, you couldn’t tell the difference.”
2014 Castel Petit Castel, Israel ($50)
“Another delicious wine, though it’s not like a California cab that’s juicy and rich and ripe. It’s more like a Bordeaux, with quiet nuances of herb but also a punch of fruit. It’s incredible.”
2016 Hagafen Pinot Noir, Napa Valley ($32)
“A little lighter wine, perfume-y and elegant. You could almost put it behind your ears, with its nuanced notes of cherries and flowers. This is a lighter, more delicate wine to have towards the beginning of the meal. And it will still go with brisket.”
2017 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, Israel ($19)
“Now, this wine is super-light, refreshing, and clean on the palate. Pour it at the beginning of the night as people arrive at the house.”
2016 Baron Herzog Chardonnay, Oxnard, Calif. ($15)
“When you taste this chardonnay, you’ll say ‘This is a $15 bottle?’ This is kosher wine like we’ve never seen before. It’s got a bright punch of tropical citrus fruits on the palatte. At the same time, it’s refreshing, not heavy or cloying.”
Jeffrey Wolfe, Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe, Coral Gables, Fla.
Jeffrey Wolfe’s eponymous shop specializes in well-sourced wines from around the world. He’s been dealing in kosher selections since he opened the place 19 years ago. “I’m Jewish. I’ve been around kosher wines all my life and hated them. That world has changed. Now there’s a wider selection. I have clients that are extraordinarily happy at the diversity of the kosher wines that we carry.”
2014 Capcanes Peraj Ha’abib Flora de Primavera, Spain ($60)
“This is my favorite kosher wine on the planet—and good if you want to be on the spend-y side. It’s a blend of grenache and cabernet sauvignon, with fine toasty and coffee flavors and rich seductive cherry fruit, a very long finish, and serious aging potential.”
2012 Yatir Mt. Amasa Judean Hills, Israel ($40)
“In the world of Israeli kosher wine, there is no better red than the ones that come from Yatir. This is a smoky, cherry-scented red blend composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz. Yatir also makes an amazing viognier that’s also good for Passover; it’s fun and different.”
2015 Covenant Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($20)
“Jeffrey Morgan has been the leader in California’s kosher wine world. This Sauvignon Blanc is from Dry Creek, where SB is considered the king of white wines. It’s crisp, delicious, and fresh-tasting.”
Dustin Wilson, Verve Wine, New York
Dustin Wilson, a master sommelier who has worked at Eleven Madison Park, features about 1,200 wines at his Verve Wine store in Manhattan’s Financial District, including a go-to selection of kosher wines. His picks come from California and Israel, with one thing in common: “They’re all red. And they’re all what you want for your Passover table.”