The 2006 holiday season is here, and many of us are beginning to look for just the right wine for our holiday celebrations. For those who are kosher or just want to purchase a kosher wine, it can be a confusing subject. Many of us think of kosher wine as bitter and far too acidic, and that is still the case with many of the low end choices. But there are wonderful, affordable kosher wines today that are just as good, if not better in some cases, than other wines. Here are five of the best kosher wines for the 2006 holiday season, as well as an overview of the kosher process of winemaking. All five wines listed are mevushal, which means they are still considered kosher after being handled by someone who is not an observant Jew. So these wines are great for everyone. LeChaim!
Most Jewish holidays, including Purim and Passover (where everyone must drink four cups of kosher wine after blessing it), involve the drinking of kosher wine as part of the celebration. Jewish weddings, Shabbat, and circumcisions also involve a blessing over the wine. “Blessed are you O Lord, Who created the fruit of the vine.”
How is kosher wine produced, and what makes it kosher? Yayin kashèr, or kosher wine as it’s known in America, is produced under strict supervision by rabbis. According to rabbinical law, all kosher wines must be found acceptable for consumption by religious Jews. The laws under which kosher wine is produced are referred to as the Jewish dietary laws, and most conservative Jews only drink wine if it is certified kosher.
Beginning in the vineyard, grapes used in kosher wines may not be used if they are from new vines, until four years have passed. Every seven years, kosher vineyards are left fallow. During this time, growing other vegetables or fruits among the vines is strictly forbidden. All winemaking equipment and storage are required to be kosher as well. Those who do the winemaking must be observant Jewish men, and all others are forbidden from touching wine, grapes, or equipment during harvest. The use of animal products, egg whites, or gelatin is also forbidden in the making of kosher wine (these products are sometimes used in non-kosher winemaking for clarity). Kosher winemakers instead use bentonite, which is a clay-like substance that draws particles away from the wine while in the barrel, clarifying it for consumption. All barrels used must be cleaned three times before a new harvest comes in. When the kosher process is completed on the wine, one percent is discarded as a religious offering. Then a hechsher, or seal of approval, is put on the bottles to indicate they are kosher. The most common seal is OU, for the Orthodox Union. All kosher wine must be poured and handled by observant Jews, unless it is specified to be mevushal.
Yarden Merlot Vintage 2000
At just $17.99 a bottle, Yarden’s vintage Merlot is a beautiful kosher wine which is at its peak right now through 2007. Produced by the famed Golan Heights Winery in Israel, this kosher Merlot is award winning, and for good reason. It is deep, full-bodied, and complex. A surprising mixture of chocolate, plum, and berries, with traces of chocolate covered orange peel and spices makes the taste of this kosher wine unparalleled. A wonderful compliment to several types of cuisine.
Abarbanel Gewurztraminer 2004
Also listed at $17.99 a bottle, Abarbanel’s Gewurztraminer 2004 is a wonderful semi-dry white wine, produced by the world’s oldest Jewish family, the Abarbanels, in France. The care that is taken to produce the finest kosher wine is evidenced in the texture and complexity of this unique Gewurztraminer. Pear and just a hint of banana bring a smooth finish that is unlike any other in its variety. Abarbanel’s Gewurztraminer 2004 is quite elegant when served with slightly spicy dishes, and is at it’s best right now, so pick up a bottle of this truly beautiful kosher white wine.
Baron Herzog Zinfandel Late Harvest 2005
At $19.99 a bottle, this California Zinfandel is absolutely delightful. With the sweetness of berries and a rich texture, this Zinfandel is so well-balanced that it is as smooth as spring water on the palate, making it perfect for spicy dishes-especially fish. Because it is so full-bodied and well balanced, this Zinfandel is not as sweet and syrupy as most dessert wines, making it very versatile. If you’re looking for a truly special kosher Zinfandel, Baron Herzog Zinfandel Late Harvest 2005 is a memorable choice.
Beckett’s Flat Cabernet/Shiraz 2003
What a lovely surprise in kosher wine, coming all the way from Australia! Beckett’s Flat Cabernet/Shiraz 2003 is 70% Cabernet and 30% Shiraz, and is absolutely breathtaking. This red is lovingly hand crafted at the Margaret River winery in Western Australia, and every taste tells of the tender loving care put into each bottle. This kosher wine is very rich and sweet, but not overpowering. The flavors of berries are balanced with spices and soft tannins, along with hints of raspberries and herbs. The light spiciness, combined with the blackish red color and vanilla bean flavor at the finish makes it ideal for holiday celebrations, and pairing with venison, rack of lamb, and many other meats. At $21.99 a bottle, Beckett’s Flat Cab/Shiraz 2003 is a wonderfully complex and satisfying red for the money.
Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc Late Harvest 2002
This is a wonderfully balanced white wine from California, and is possibly the most outstanding kosher wine on our list. Harvested at the latest possible time in the season, the Chenin Blanc grapes are allowed to very nearly raisin on the vine before they are harvested. This particular white is so even in it’s texture and complexity that it’s hard to find a comparable Chenin Blanc even outside the world of kosher wines. With a beguiling honey/peach aroma, and an almost candy-like taste, one would think it is almost too sweet if it were not for the bracing acidity of this wine. This is a luscious kosher dessert wine that is surprisingly good with either poultry or fresh fruit. At just $16.99 a bottle, Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc Late Harvest 2002 makes a wonderful holiday gift or accompaniment to a holiday meal. It is at its peak now, and is expected to remain at its best for another year.
There you have it, the top five kosher wines for the 2006 holiday season. Whether you’re in the mood for a full-bodied red or a complex white, there’s something for you on this list. Whether you’re a connisseur or a beginner looking to try out a kosher wine, pick something from the list and try a bottle for your holiday celebration. None of the wines listed will disappoint even the most critical of drinkers, and at such reasonable prices you have nothing to lose by having your own kosher wine tasting. So pop the cork, and enjoy! Mazeltov.