In honor of Passover, the mother of all Kosher wine drinking holidays, I would like to take this opportunity to disavow everyone of the notion that Kosher wine begins and ends with Manishevitz. If you are one of those sorry individuals who downs four cups of putrid red concord alcoholic syrup, please accept my heartfelt sympathies (and a package of Tums). For the rest of you, here are some of my top picks sorted roughly by price/quality. Unfortunately, I do not believe in white or sweet wines, so this review will concentrate on dry, red wine.
Kosher wine is for the most part identical to non-kosher wine, with the exception that the grapes were watched throughout the process to prevent contamination. Certain Kosher wines are flash pasteurized in order to preserve a certain status in Jewish law, a process which renders the wine “Mevushal.” Wine which undergoes this process does not suffer in taste, but this prevents it from undergoing any substantive aging processes. For the most part this is not an issue, as almost all Kosher wines are best when drunk within 5 years of bottling, with a select few requiring 10 years to peak.
Kosher wines can be purchased at many area liquor stores, as well as at specialty Kosher markets and online. One site that I would highly recommend for pricing, service, and selection is www.kosherwine.com.
Although there sometimes seems to be a slight premium built into the Kosher wine market, as time goes on and more competitors enter the fray there is an increasing selection of relatively inexpensive Kosher wines that are actually palatable. One good example of this is the Altoona Hills Cabernet/Merlot, which retails for around $5-$8 a bottle in most stores. This young, fruity wine from Australia has a decent texture and strong oak tones that linger on the tongue, making it a great pair for a strong meat dish. Another Australian winery that makes some decent lower end wines is Teal Lake. They make a very drinkable Shiraz (the Australian version of the Syrah), a decent Cabernet/Merlot blend, and for a bit more – around $15 a bottle – you can get the Teal Lake Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve which is a very smooth and rich, although not very complex, wine. This wine is now available in the 2002 vintage, and should be consumed right away, as it lacks the tannins to age much longer. Moving over to Spain, the Ramon Cardova Rioja is an excellent value at around $10-$13. This wine is touted as a “best buy” and “highly recommended” by wine critics, and is a very well balanced and fruity wine. For a few dollars more you can get the Estate Bottled Ramon Cardova Rioja Crianza, and with the Crianza designation you get the guarantee of a minimum two years aging with at least one of those years being in oak barrels. To my knowledge, there are no Kosher wines that qualify as Reserva or Gran Reserva, so this is the highest designation you are going to get.
Israel produces many excellent wines in this price range, with my favorite ones coming out of the Golan Heights Winery. This winery produces the Gamla, Golan, and Yarden brand wines. The Gamla and Golan brands both make an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. Gamla makes a Pinot Noir that retails for around $17 dollars which is really good. The Pinot has strong flavors of oak, black pepper, and is one of the only Kosher Pinots that sells for under $20. Segal’s Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve is also a good value for your money.
The wines that I am including in this category retail for $20-$30 a bottle. Starting with California, one of my favorite Cabs is the Herzog Special Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has an incredible taste and character for a wine in this price range. The Herzog Special Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is supposed to be equally good, although I have never personally had the pleasure of drinking it. The Hagafen Pinot Noir also holds its own in this price range. The Yarden Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon (both the regular one and the reserve are great) represent the Israeli contribution to this category.
The higher end of the Kosher wine world is remarkably empty, with barely a dozen contestants. Your $90 contribution gets you a bottle of Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, the quality of which none of my friends can agree upon. Herzog makes a Special Edition Warnecke Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which varies in price depending on the age. The more recent vintages go for around $60, while some of the earlier ones can go for as much as $150 if you can find them. France can claim the most expensive Kosher wines with a series of Roberto Cohen wines that range from just over $100 to just over $300, all of them (I believe) burgundy wines. The highest of those are Grand Cru class wines.
Bottom line: if I catch you drinking Manishevitz or Kedem swill after this article comes out, I may get violent.