Tzora Vineyards

Passover Kosher Wine Buying Guide

Holiday Shopping – Parts I & II

As you probably already know, the weeks leading up to Pessach are the US kosher wine industry’s busiest with more kosher wine being sold during this period than the rest of the year combined. As the popularity of quality kosher wine continues to increase, the quality and variety of wines available to the kosher wine consumer are truly astounding. While obviously a blessing, the tremendous choice can make for a somewhat stressful shopping experience. Also, and most unfortunately, there is a substantial amount of drek being pushed as quality wine and many stores and online purveyors are selling old, dead and tired wines so far past their optimum drinking windows that it’s practically criminal. Remember – in general (and there are exceptions), white wines shouldn’t be sold more than two years past their vintage and red wines three years (unless we are talking about the better and more expensive wines). As with every industry, caveat emptor.

During this busy buying season retailers bring out the big sales and almost every wine is on sale. Further, given the increasing competition and online availability of most top-notch kosher wines, most merchants will match any published price, so always ask your favored retailer to match any prices you have seen elsewhere and, if you aren’t happy with the price – ask for a discount. As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

As with every year and in order to assist with your holiday shopping, I am happy to present my ANNUAL PESSACH KOSHER WINE GUIDE.

As with every year, I have set forth recommendations across four price ranges: Under $16, between $16-29.99, between $30-50 and Moshiach Wines (otherwise know as those über-special wines I would proudly serve the Moshiach, were he ever to grace my table). Prices tend to fluctuate and might not always fall squarely into the tiers I have listed below which should merely serve as a guide. Also, note that Moshiach wines sometimes include older vintages that I have been storing for a while in my cellar or wines that are subject to otherwise limited availability, and which are not always readily available at your local retailer.

It’s important to none that these lists are not exhaustive, but rather a sampling of wines I enjoy and think you will enjoy as well.

Also, as you know by now, despite 2008 being a tremendous vintage for almost all Israeli wines, it was Shmittah and therefore most wines were not exported out of Israel. While there are some 2008 Israeli wines being sold, including a number from the Golan Heights Winery, Galil Mountain and Odem Mountain. As with most halachik issues, there are numerous opinions with respect to the different “types” of Shmittah wine produced, enjoying such wines outside of Israel (or at all) and one should consult their local Rabbi with any questions in this regard.

I note that the attached is not a comprehensive list of every wine I believe worthy of your consideration, but merely a selection of the better wines available in the different price ranges, all of which I recommend and believe are worthy of your Pessach table (or random wine glass). As the years go buy and the quality and quantity of top-notch kosher wine grows, the number of potential wines for this list get longer, and the difficulty in culling wines harder. Even so, and given that the collective Wine Buying Guide includes around 130 wines, I will be putting together a list of my top-ten wines in each of the four categories and posting it on my website next week.

While one of my favorite Jewish customs, the tradition to consume four full cups of wine at the Seder brings with it a host of dilemmas requiring serious thought and planning. The main problem is that four cups of wine is a lot of wine to be consuming at one sitting (even an up-to 5 hour sitting such as a traditional Seder), especially given the fact that the first two cups are typically imbibed on an empty stomach. Another issue is that for the Seder many folks tend to use the same silver goblets used for Kiddush. While during the year, the potential negative effect the silver has on wine is easily remedied by immediately pouring the wine into a proper wine glass following Kiddush; during the Seder the wine sits in the silver goblet for a far longer period of time. Other potential issues arise from a tradition to only drink red wine at the Seder and to avoid any Mevushal wine (further to multiple reader requests, I am putting together a list of recommended mevushal wines which I will later this next week).

Given ones desire to honor the Seder, people try to have the nicest and most expensive wines possible, typically full-bodied Bordeaux-blends or robust Cabernet Sauvignon wines. These wines typically take time to open up and evolve and are layered and complex liquid treasures, well-deserving on your time. However, the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups, the requirement to consume nearly an entire cup of wine rather rapidly and the need to keep little kids from wreaking havoc; all combine to significantly detract from ones ability to fully enjoy and appreciate the complexities, nuances of flavor and aroma of these typically magnificent wines.

As a result, I suggest (and do so myself), saving the bigger and more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during the actual Seder meal (and the multiple subsequent meals over the holiday), and finding other good wines to utilize for the four cups. Being a traditionalist, I am sticking with red wines for all four cups and choose my wines based on a few simple principles. It is still Chag and one in which we celebrate our freedom so top quality wine is still a pre-requisite. Therefore, I look for top quality, medium bodied and relatively simple wines. Some favorites of mine include Recanati’s Petite-Sirah/Zinfandel 2010, the Capcanes Peraj Petita or Domaine Netofa Red 2010. To the extent you are looking for well priced whites, Dalton’s Reserve Viognier, Yarden’s Gewurztraminer or Odem Chardonnay, Dalton’s Fume Blanc or Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling are all good and affordable bets.

Under $16

While this list includes many good and enjoyable wines, as a general rule, the wines in this price range are not complex, cellar worthy or sophisticated (with a few exceptions). As oak barrels are a significant component of a wine’s cost, this list has plenty of white wines that typically spend little or no time in oak, resulting in lower prices. As a general rule, any wine in this price range from Recanati, Galil Mountain or Dalton is going to be good, as long as it’s not too old. Most of the wines on these lists qualify as YH Best Buys (wines I consider a particularly good way to spend your hard-earned cash).

(1) Barkan, Classic, Pinot Noir, 2010
(2) Binyamina, Bin, Merlot, 2010
(3) Binyamina, Reserve, Chardonnay (Unoaked), 2010
(4) Binyamina, Yogev, Cabernet Sauvignon-Petit Verdot, 2010
(5) Carmel, Private Collection, Chardonnay, 2010
(6) Carmel, Appellation, Cabernet Franc, 2009 (Petit Sirah & Carignan in same series are also good)
(7) Dalton, Canaan, Red, 2009
(8) Dalton, Fume Blanc, 2011
(9) Dalton, Moscato, 2011
(10) Elvi, Adar, Cava, Brut, n.v.
(11) Galil Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(12) Galil Mountain, Alon, 2009 (not yet available in the United States)
(13) Galil Mountain, Pinot Noir, 2010
(14) Golan Heights Winery, Golan, Moscato, 2011
(15) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Gewürztraminer, 2011
(16) Luria, Gewurztraminer, 2011 (available only in Israel)
(17) Recanati, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(18) Recanati, Rose, 2011
(19) Recanati, Yasmin, White, 2011
(20) Tabor, Galil, Shiraz, 2009
(21) Teperberg, Terra, Malbec, 2009
(22) Teperberg, Silver, Syrah, 2009
(23) Tishbi, Gewurztraminer, 2010
(24) Weinstock, Cellar Select, Petite Sirah, 2010

$16-29.99

This price range is the sweet spot for me. As the prices of kosher wine continues to rise to ridiculous levels, there are a number of wineries that maintain a tremendous level of quality without pushing prices out of the reach of most people. While the majority of truly great Kosher wines unfortunately reside in the over $30 price range, there are plenty of great ones here as well. In general, I find Ella Valley, Dalton, Carmel, Herzog Special Reserve and the Golan Heights Winery to be consistent players in this field of great wines under $30 (i.e. anything of theirs in this range is worth buying [unless it’s past its peak]), notwithstanding the fact that they all also have more expensive terrific wines as well.

(1) Alexander, Reserve, Gaston, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Shiraz, 2007
(2) Alfasi, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2011
(3) Barkan, Reserve, Pinotage, 2010
(4) Binyamina, Reserve, Carignan, 2009 (the 2010 is the newest release in Israel)
(5) Binyamina, Reserve, Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, 2009
(6) Bodegas Flechas de los Andes, Gran Malbec, Mendoza, 2009
(7) Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2009
(8) Carmel, Sha’al Vineyard, Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, 2007
(9) Carmel, Kayoumi Vineyard, Riesling, 2010
(10) Chateau Thenac, Fleur du Perigord, 2010
(11) Covenant, Red C, Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 (improvement over the very nice 2010)
(12) Dalton, Estate, Petite Sirah, 2010
(13) Dalton, Alma, Chardonnay/Viognier, 2010
(14) Domaine Netofa, Red, 2010
(15) Domaine Netofa, Lator, White, 2010
(16) Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2009
(17) Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (the 2007 Syrah is also delicious)
(18) Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, 2008
(19) Flam, Blanc, 2010
(20) Flam, Classico, 2010
(21) Galil Mountain, Avivim, 2009
(22) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blancs, 2005
(23) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(24) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Odem Organic Vineyard, Chardonnay, 2009
(25) Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 (don’t let the screwcap scare you off)
(26) Goose Bay, Pinot Noir, 2010
(27) Hagafen, Lake County, White Riesling, 2010
(28) Herzog, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008
(29) Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah, 2009
(30) Odem Mountain, Volcanic, Shiraz, 2009
(31) Pacifica, Pinot Noir, 2010
(32) Porto Cordovero, Fine Ruby Port, n.v.
(33) Psagot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (also try their port-styled “Prat”)
(34) Psagot, Edom, 2009
(35) Recanati, Reserve, Syrah/Viognier, 2010
(36) Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
(37) Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2009
(38) Segal, Single Vineyard Dishon, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (a truly great wine and a YH Best Buy)
(39) Shiloh, Barbera, 2009
(40) Teperberg, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (probably Teperberg’s best wine yet)
(41) Tulip, Just, Merlot, 2010
(42) Tulip, White Tulip, 2011
(43) Tzora, Neve Ilan, 2010
(44) Tzora, Judean Hils, 2009
(45) Tzuba, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(46) Vignobles David, Reserve, Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2010

$30-50

(1) 1848, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. A delightful new arrival on the scene from a family that has been making wine in Israel for over 150 years.
(2) Barkan, Altitude, Cabernet Sauvignon +702, 2007. Each wine is the series is named for the respective altitude of the vineyard & all three are good. Together they make a great comparative tasting.
(3) Bazelet HaGolan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009. After a hiatus of a few years from top tier wines, Bazelet returns with a few good wines. This is one of them.
(4) B.R. Cohn, Trestle Glen Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008. The first kosher wine from the legendary Bruce Cohn and a resounding success – I wrote about the wine here.
(5) Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib Flor de Primavera, 2009. One of my all time favorite wines and a spectacular vintage for this wine. The 2000 vintage is drinking amazingly now and is easily a Moshiach wine.
(6) Carmel, Single Vineyard Kayoumi, Shiraz, 2007. There is something special about the Kayoumi vineyard. The Cabernet is also really good and both could use a bit of aging before enjoying.
(7) Carmel, Mediterranean, 2007. One of Carmel’s attempts to create a wine with “Israeli” terroir. Different and delicious.
(8) Castel, Petit Castel, 2009. A “second” wine to the Grand Vin in price and name only – certainly not in quality.
(9) City Winery, Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009. City Winery makes a number of delicious wines out of their SoHo facility which is worthy of a visit and the wines of your attention.
(10) City Winery, Spring Street Pinot Noir, 2009. Another top wine from City Winery and, while no longer the only kosher Oregon Pinot, it remains the best one.
(11) Covenant, Lavan (Chardonnay), 2010. A bit less oak than prior vintages allows the beautiful fruit to better express itself while still providing some muscle to this delicious wine.
(12) Dalton, Reserve, Shiraz, 2009. As with almost everything Dalton makes, this is a delightful wine (the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is also well worth trying).
(13) Drappier, Carte D’Or Champagne, n.v. A new and welcome arrival to the limited group of true kosher Champagnes. Crisp, layered and delicious.
(14) Ella Valley Vineyards, Vineyard’s Choice, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. Cabernet Sauvignon has been this winery’s weakest link (albeit a very strong one), an issue rectified by this wine. The Vineyard’s Choice Merlot 2005 is great (they just re-released the 2004 but I’d stick with the 2005).
(15) Elvi, El 26, Priorat, 2006. Together with the Mesorah listed below, these are Elvi’s two flagship wines who have earned that distinction. Simply delicious. The In Victa, a newly released white wine is also delightful.
(16) Elvi, Clos Mesorah, 2009. A limited release blend of Elvi’s new flagship wine. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Old Vine Carignan yields a delightful result.
(17) Four Gates, Cabernet Franc, 2007. One of my favorite Cabernet Franc wines and a scrumptious wine. Four Gates is truly a tremendous winery whose wines are only available directly from the winery. Well worth the effort and make for fantastic pairing with food.
(18) Four Gates, Pinot Noir, 2009. Four Gates recently released a slew of news wines which are all incredible. The new cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and delicious as well.
(19) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard–Elrom, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008. Almost everything they make is great. While some are a little overly jammy and oaky for my personal taste, this wine is rich, deep and delicious (and Shmittah) with great aging potential.
(20) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard-Ortal, Syrah, 2004. I drink tons of Syrah these days and this is an easy aged favorite which is still available at stores (just confirm the wines storage history).
(21) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard-Yonatan, 2007. A new and very welcome member of the Yarden Single Vineyard Series (and not only because it’s named after my oldest son).
(22) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, T2, 2008. Following their successful release last year of the Yarden 2T, a blend of two Portuguese varietals used in making Port, Yarden recently released a delicious port-Style wine from the same grapes. Only available in Israel but worth locating.
(23) Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2009. A few Gvaot wines are available in the US but they are overpriced. Gvaot is too amazing to miss out on so do yourself a favor and get some directly from Israel (most of them are really good).
(24) Hagafen, Prix, Pinot Noir – Fagan Creek, 2006. Hagafen makes two Pinot Noir wines in the Prix series (the other from the Soleil Vineyard). Both are delicious and make for a great comparative tasting.
(25) Hagafen, Prix, Zinfandel – Moskowite Ranch/Block 61, 2006. A big and powerful Zinfandel with plenty of fruit, spice and chocolate coming together magnificently.
(26) Karmei Yosef (Bravdo), Coupage, 2010. I was instantly smitten with the Karmei Yosef wines when I tasted the 2007 vintage and am ecstatic that the wine are now imported into the US at reasonable prices. Also highly recommended is the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
(27) Livni, Sde Calev, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009. A winery that has improved drastically over the last few years and this wine is rich and delicious. The 2009 Pinot is also well worth trying.
(28) Porto Cordovero, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2004. The only true LBV kosher Port and a delicious and different dessert wine that is well worth trying.
(29) Recanati, Reserve, Kerem Ba’al, Carignan, 2009. One of the most interesting releases of the year in which Recanati showed its abilities once again. An ancient grape made awesome. Imported in limited quantities so get some as fast as you can. The 2010 is the current release in Israel.
(30) Recanati, Special Reserve, 2006. One of my all-time favorites and a severely underappreciated wine. Pricey but still a YH Best Buy.
(31) Shiloh, Secret Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009. Over the last two years the consistency and quality of Shiloh has grown exponentially (stay tuned for a coming newsletter dedicated to the winery).
(32) Tzora, Misty Hills, 2007. Tzora’s flagship label which can be tough to find is terrific, reflecting the Judean Hills unique terroir and the winery’s abilities to create complex, layered and age-worthy wines.
(33) Yatir, Red Blend, 2007. As with everything else made by Yatir, this is a great wine well worth splurging on. The single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines are harder to find but worth the time, effort & expense to do so.

Moshiach Wines

Moshiach Wines are those wines that I would proudly serve the Moshiach, were he ever to grace my table. Please note that some of the Moshiach wines are older vintages that I have in my cellar or were acquired directly from Israel, and therefore may not be readily available at your local retailer. While they may be a tad difficult to lay your hands on, I promise you these are all worth the extra mile of effort or additional shekels! For your convenience, in instances where I have listed older vintages, I have also noted the current vintage of the wine and whether it is worthy of your consideration and wallet. I also note that this list has a very limited number of wines from Israel’s incredible 2008 vintage year as they are Shmittah and, for the most part not imported to the United States. That said, for my Israeli readers and those for whom this is not an issue, seek out any high-end wines from the 2008 vintage which are mostly A-M-A-Z-I-N-G (ping me for questions with respect to any particular wine). I have also limited references to many incredible wines that have been released in Israel and I have tasted over the last few months at Sommelier and IsraWinExpo as they are not available in the US or even widely available in Israel.

(1) Alexander, Alexander the Great, Amarolo, 2007. A new wine in a gloriously opulent label, styled after the fabled Amarone wines of Veneto and the only such kosher wine I know. Expensive but different and delicious.
(2) Barkan, Superior, Pinotage, 2007. An incredible effort with a somewhat obstinate grape. The Superior 2006 Shiraz and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon are available and both delightful as well.
(3) Binyamina, Avnei HaChoshen-Diamond, 2007. An amazing blend and my favorite wine of this series (which can be hit or miss sometimes although consistency is improving and this wine being an easy hit). The Aquamarine 2007 (Cabernet Sauvignon) is also delicious.
(4) Binyamina, The Cave, Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. A new and limited release Cave that is delicious and tough to find but worth seeking out as it has more depth & complexity than the “regular” Cave (tasting the two side by side make for an interesting comparison).
(5) Bustan, Syrah, 2007. Bustan is unfortunately only available in Israel but, as with Gvaot and several other boutique Israelis that are overpriced in the US, well-worth the effort of obtaining directly from Israel.
(6) Capcanes, Flor de Flor, 2007. The Peraj Ha’abib is a long time favorite of mine and this relatively new wine is great as well. Now with some age on it, it is drinking beautifully. The 2010 vintage is the current release (and next released vintage after the 2007).
(7) Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib Flor de Primavera, 2003. Once you taste this wine, the value of properly aging wine for future enjoyment becomes crystal clear (if it wasn’t already). The 2009 and 2010 are both available.
(8) Carmel, Limited Edition, 2005. Another example of Carmel’s gradual transition from showcasing power to elegance, from a vintage that is drinking beautifully right now. The 2007 and 2008 are the current releases; while both are great, they will benefit from further cellaring.
(9) Castel, Grand Vin, 2006. 2009 is the current vintage in the US and is also delicious but needs time. One of Israel’s most prominent wines in Old-World style.
(10) Château Guiraud, Sauternes 1er Cru, 2001. The best kosher dessert wine. Period.
(11) Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2005. One of the best kosher French wines from an awesome vintage for Bordeaux. A worthy splurge.
(12) Château Piada, Sauternes, 2006. A legitimate successor to the delightful 2001 vintage of this wine that I have enjoyed for years. Do yourself a favor, and try some real dessert wine from Sauternes.
(13) Château Le Crock, Saint-Estèphe, 2005. A great French wine from a terrific vintage. While the 2005 vintage doesn’t carry the YH Best Buy label this wine had for years, its still well-priced & delicious.
(14) Château Quinault, Saint-Émilion, 2005. This Château certainly picked the right year for their first kosher release. Bordeaux as Bordeaux was meant to be.
(15) Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005. The 2009 is the current vintage but, as with all vintages of this wine, needs plenty of time. Buy a few every year and give them the proper time in your cellar – I promise you will not be disappointed.
(16) Covenant, Solomon, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008. After many years, Leslie Rudd finally gave Jeff his wish and allowed a Covenant wine to be made from his acclaimed grapes. All I can say is – Wow! A huge wine with plenty of depth and complexity that will continue to develop and evolve for many years.
(16) Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin Red, 2004. After all these years the Katzrin is still the Israeli Rock Star of wine and the one with the longest aging ability (I drank my last 1990 a few months ago and still have a few 1993 vintages I am looking forward to). The 2007 is the latest release (w/ a 2008 expected soon) but isn’t ready to drink yet.
(17) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Elrom Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003. The 2001 inaugural vintage of this wine was earth-shattering (and an easy Moshiach wine in its own right) and still is but I am saving my remaining bottles for Yonatan’s Bar-Mitzvah. All released vintages of this wine are great but the 2003 is really special and truly a Moshiach Wine.
(18) Hagafen, Prix, Mélange, 2006. Available directly from the winery and one of Hagafen’s best wines ever (which is mevushal to boot).
(19) Herzog, Generation VIII, Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon, 2006. A wine well worthy of the famed To-Kalon name with tons of fruit, power, terroir and elegance all rolled into an awesome and very expensive package. A real treat if you can afford it but definitely not a QPR wine.
(20) Herzog, Special Edition, Chalk Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008. For years, this wine was the premium Herzog wine. Despite multiple subsequent single vineyard-releases this wine still reigns supreme (other than the To-Kalon version which is more expensive)
(21) Laurent Perrier, Brut Champagne, n.v. True Champagne makes my heart sing and this version from Laurent Perrier is a magnificent specimen that will make you feel the same.
(22) Louis de Sacy, Grand Cru, Brut Champagne, n.v. Together with the Laurent Perrier Brut above, my go-to Champagne. Despite my love of Yarden’s Blanc de Blanc, there is no substitute for the luxury of true Champagne.
(23) Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. An instant hit upon release that has aged nicely and is primed for enjoyment now. The 2009 is the current release.
(24) Segal, Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. Once hailed as the closest thing to a kosher Barolo, this wine is scrumptious. All past vintages, including the 2000 are drinking well (although the 2000 should be consumed soon).
(25) Shiloh, Mosaic, 2006. Shiloh’s 2009 vintage shows the immense progress the winery has recently made, but this wine from the 2006 vintage is great and drinking amazingly right now.
(26) Shirah Wines, Power to the People, Syrah, 2009. A delicious wine, blended with 3% Viognier from two wine-making brothers on the West Coast. Prior hits included my top-rated Syraph and they have a slew of new wines coming online. Available only directly from them & a bit pricy, these are voluptuous treats.
(27) Yatir, Forest, 2005. Perfection in a bottle. The current available vintage is the 2007 (and 2008 in Israel) which will be great in a few years but definitely needs some settling down time.

For additional Moshiach Wines, check out my Best Wines of 2011.