Jewish holidays are full of wine. On Shabbat, evening and morning, Jews say the kiddush (sanctification) blessing over wine. On Jewish holidays, we also say the blessings over wine. However, on one holiday, it really is all about wine — on Passover, in addition to the holiday meals during the day and the last day or two (2 days outside of Israel, 1 in Israel) of the week-long holiday, Jews have to drink four cups of wine at the seder (1 in Israel, 2 outside of Israel). That means that a lot of wine gets purchased and drunk, even by those who aren’t normal wine drinkers. Personally, I love this – both because it reflects a positive attitude about responsible alcohol consumption and also – as someone who grew up around the wine retail business during my childhood and gets really nostalgic around wine racks and the smell of fermentation (no, my family are not alcoholics — we just took family vacations to the Anheuser Busch brewery in Williamsburg, VA growing up) – this religious obligation to sanctify the fruit of the vine is what really has gotten me into wine drinking.
While not all Israeli wines are kosher, I am ONLY recommending kosher wines. Be careful, also, when ordering Israeli wine for Passover, that you are only getting kosher wine, because some retailers are selling wine that is not certified as kosher for Passover and marketing them to Jews for the holiday.
HOWEVER: these wines should not be seen as only for Jewish holidays, but rather they are good enough to drink YEAR round, for any reason that you would normally drink wine.
The Mitzvah (Commandment) to Drink Good Wine
It’s not merely a religious obligation to drink wine on the Passover holiday (and four cups during the seder). It’s a religious requirement to drink GOOD wine on the holiday and be seated in a nice place, while leisurely reclining. According to Hilchot Pesach in the Shulchan Aruch, even if you don’t like wine, you should still drink the four cups for the religious commandment. According to the Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Pesach (תעב), it’s a requirement to drink red wine (but then the Rama, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, responds that you can drink white wine that is truly excellent and praiseworthy — perhaps like the Carmel Sha’al Gewurtzraminer for your 4th (dessert) cup or something from Yatir). The Mishna Brura also comments that red wine is recommended because it’s considered to be nicer (which is still a common view and one of the reasons why red wine is often more expensive than white wine).
Incidentally, for those who see mevushal wine as somehow “more kosher”, according to the Chofetz Chaim’s commentary in the Mishna Brura, ideally, you should NOT serve mevushal wine (which knocks out Manishewitz and Kiddush wine as religiously permitted!) unless it is somehow more excellent (perhaps California’s HaGefen winery would follow as the only acceptable mevushal wine — most Israeli kosher wine is NOT mevushal). Expost facto (bediavad, in Jewish legal terms), mevushal wine is permitted, but it is religiously ideal to drink non-mevushal kosher wine. Thus, you see, there is a religious obligation to drink truly fine, praiseworthy wine for the Passover seder.
Two respondents on my Passover wine survey are drinking either Manishewitz or other kiddush wine. My response – DON’T. I don’t care if it’s “tradition” or it’s what your dear grandfather drank. He did it because there was no other option or didn’t know better. Today, there is NO reason to purchase Manishewitz wine (they make great Passover mixes, try those instead!) or other kiddush wine. In fact, it’s religiously prohibited to drink bad wine. I would go so far as to say that if you see anyone buying kiddush wine for the seder, tell them NO, perhaps even that Jewish law would frown upon drinking so-called kiddush wine, and point them to this post or other, real, wine.
Seder Wine Recommendations
Different people have different philosophies on wine. From my little survey , I see that most of my readers have a different philosophy than me. My philosophy is that, during the Passover seder, because of the religious obligation to drink four cups of wine, and the need to get through the entire seder, there isn’t as much time to enjoy the wine as during a regular Shabbat or holiday meal. Also, because of the obligation to drink four cups, it’s worth paying attention to the alcohol content. So, I reserve my premium wine for the rest of the holiday and drink wine that is a good value and also relatively low in alcohol content. I’m also primarily recommending red wines because of the religious idea that red wine is better (but that’s based on the common popularity of red wine, you can use a white wine if it’s better than the red you may have served).
So, if I can find it, the wine that I plan on serving during the Passover seder is the Tzuba Sangiovese. Low in alcohol (11%, I believe), light and fruity and yet available for less than $10.
According to Royal Wine Corp., this wine will soon be available in the United States too. Last year, following up this theme, for the seder I served Segal’s Fusion Red.
In addition, at least as one of the holiday wine meals, I plan on serving the first Israeli malbec – Teperberg 1870′s Malbec. I had it once and was absolutely blown away by the amazing color and just out of this world taste. Honestly, the only wines that have blown me away like this (although it’s very different) is the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin – a great, but not cheap, wine! I think for the other holiday meals, I am going to have a Barbera, Syrah, and maybe a Zinfandel.
If you’re looking for wine under $20, and can find it, check out Teperberg (Terra and above) and Tzora’s offerings! They are just value wines that I’ve personally been amazed with! For really cheap wine, the Teperberg Silver series is also very very good for the price.
Teperberg wines are also “super kosher” but that’s not the point – they’re just GOOD!
I see that the Tzuba Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Metzudah blend will be arriving soon to America.
Here are some other Passover wine recommendations:
Other suggested wines include:
- Galil Mountain Barbara
Agur Kessem series (newly kosher, newly imported to the US, not sure the price).
I would also check out (in the $10-$15/40-60NIS range):
- Carmel Private Collection vintage 2007, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot
Galil Mountain’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz
Segal’s Marom Galil series (Special Reserve, in the US)
Teperberg’s Terra line, including the amazing amazing Malbec, but also the Meritage, Syrah, etc.
Yogev’s wines… they are from the industrial Binyamina winery, but are providing a good QPR (quality/price).
In the $15-$20 range (61NIS-80NIS):
- Galil Mountain Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Cabernet,
Gamla series (Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Sangiovese, etc.)
In the $20-and-up range (above 80NIS):
- Bazelet HaGolan
Carmel Appellation and Single Vineyard series
Carignon Old Vines
Domaine du Castel
Dalton… I’m still waiting to try their Zinfandel.
Single vineyard series
Ella Valley’s wines… haven’t heard much from them lately, but they are still making good wine that is worth checking out.
Galil Mountain Yiron, Yiron Syrah
Odem Mountain’s 2007 vintage, newly kosher.
Recanati Reserve, Syrah
anything from Yatir. If you really want to prove a point about kosher wine, especially if you used to drink Manishewitz, spend a few shekels on the Yatir Forest! Trust me. It’ll change your Passover (and year-round wine drinking forever).
Of course, wines in Golan Heights Winery’s Yarden series (except the common, entry-level Mount Hermon series — good for an entry-level wine, but it’s not reflective of the Yarden series).
If you’re Israeli and you have to buy wine at the supermarket, here are some recommendations:
The wines of Recanati (except for the Yasmin series), Galil Mountain, Golan (except the Sion Creek series), Gamla, and Yarden (except the Mount Hermon series). Carmel’s Private Collection series. I would avoid the Barkan Classic and Shel Segal series, including the Ben Ami series (this also holds if you are buying kosher wine in the US, as these are the most common kosher wines found in kosher supermarkets and non-kosher wine shops).
A few great dessert wines
- Yarden HeightsWine
Carmel Sha’al Gewurtzraminer
A few common wines to avoid
I don’t want to tell you what to drink and what not to. If you like it, drink it. But, often people get the common cheap-o industrial wines and then say that they hate Israeli or kosher wines. That’s a mistake — you wouldn’t say you hate California wines because of “Two Buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw) or rate all Australian wine on the strength of Yellow Tail, so don’t rate Israeli and kosher wines on the strength of the industrial wine from Segal or Barkan or Binyamina. So, as I mentioned above, I don’t like the following wines (but others do, so whatever suits your taste). Unfortunately, these are the more commonly-found wines. Heck, just remember that they are better than kiddush wines:
* Hevron Heights and Noah Winery – not the politics, they just don’t make very good wine.
* Golan Sion Creek
* Barkan Classic
* Segal’s Shel Segal and Ben Ami. If it says it has Argaman in it, pick up something else!
and don’t rate Carmel based on the low end Selected-series. It’s not bad for what it is, but it’s a cheap wine (a good cheapo wine, to be sure, but still a cheapo wine. Try their other wines to see the New Carmel, though.