2014 Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide

Market Price: Parts I & II

As you already know, the weeks leading up to Pesach are the US kosher wine industry’s busiest, with more kosher wine purchased during this period than the rest of the year combined (the wine buying in Israel is slightly more evenly distributed throughout the year, with Rosh Hashana also being prime buying season.  As the enjoyment of wine continues to penetrate the kosher-keeping community, the quality and variety of wines available to the kosher wine consumer continues to grow with numbers that are truly astounding.  Until a few years ago, the estimated number of kosher wines being produced annually had been standing steadily at approximately 1,500 wines for a number of years.  While this is a very large number (and it doesn’t include the 75 disparate varieties of Manischewitz, Malaga and Yayin Patishim), it was sufficiently manageable to enable me to taste nearly every wine of interest on a more-or-less annual basis.  These days, the number has grown much closer to 3,000 different wines, making it nearly impossible to taste that many ways (and still have a day job and healthy personal life).

While the smorgasbord of choices creates a life-enhancing experience, especially for the kosher oenophile, in addition to the strain placed on my palate and liver, they can create a somewhat stressful shopping experience.  Trying to separate the wheat form among the proverbial chaff within such a large array of choices, can make it tough to ascertain which of these wines are truly worth your hard-earned lirot.  Also, in addition to the poor vintage issue and an unfortunate abundance of mediocre-at-best available wines, there is a substantial amount of drek being pushed as quality wine, with many stores and online purveyors selling old 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 favorite retailer to match the prices you have seen elsewhere and, if you aren’t happy with the price – ask for a discount.

As is my annual tradition, in order to assist with your Pesach preparations, I am happy to present my Annual Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide.  The Guide covers my recommendations for wines across four price ranges: (1) Under $18, (2) between $18-29.99, (3) between $30-50 and (4) Moshiach Wines. For my new readers, 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 very limited edition wines that may not be easily 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 and additional shekels! Also, as is the case with many of the best wines, many of these wines are Moshiach wines only after a few years of aging. As older vintages (that have been stored properly) are somewhat difficult to come by, the list includes the current vintage for many of the wines. In some instances I have added a parenthetical including (one of) the vintages I deem worthy of drinking now as a true Moshiach wine.

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, each of which I recommend and believe are worthy of your Pesach table. As would be expected, there are perennial repeaters on this list, indicative of the excellence and consistency of the applicable winemaker. One item of note is due to the continued increase in the price of kosher wine (exacerbated for Israeli wines by the continued weakening of the Shekel against the dollar), many wines that were previously in the $30-50 range have exceeded the $50 price tag but aren’t necessarily special enough to get bumped to the Moshiach list (wines are sometimes left off the list entirely as being too expensive and unworthy to be called a Moshiach wine). As years go by and the quality and quantity of top-notch kosher wine grows, the number of potential wines for this list gets longer, and the difficulty in culling wines harder. Even so, and given that the collective Pesach Wine Buying Guide includes around 120 wines, I will be putting together a list of my top-ten wines in each of the four categories and sending it around before Chag.

As with my end of year list and primarily due my legal education, a few caveats to the list.  First, due to the disparate geographical disbursement of my reader base, the listed vintages may be different depending on which part of the world your shopping cart is located in (although vintages tend to also shift from local retailer to retailer and distributor to distributor, depending on how much of the prior vintage they have left in stock).  A few of these wines may only be available either in Israel and are marked (IS) for Israel and (US) for the United States (while a number of the (US) marked wines may be available in Israel these days (Tzur is importing a number of Royal wines into Israel), I didn’t see them in most Israeli wine shops I recently visited and therefore have marked them as such – for the most part they are extremely expensive in Israel and would likely be in a different price category anyway).  That said, most such wines are available directly from wine shops in Israel, many of whom would be happy to ship them directly, including a few listed on my “Recommended Retailers” page.

While I always recommend asking me before purchasing a wine from a different vintage than I recommended; given the fluctuation in the quality of recent vintages, it is especially important when utilizing this list to purchase different vintages than those specifically listed.  While some vintages are significantly better than others, with other wines it is merely a different style between vintages, but one you should be aware of, in order to ensure that you are purchasing a wine you will enjoy (the Dalton Rose is a good example, with the 2013 version being much dryer and crisper than the 2012 vintage, which was also very well received).  Prices can fluctuate wildly, between different countries and even throughout the five boroughs of New York (online price-checking is always a good idea) and might not always fall squarely into the tiers I have listed below (as a result, my categories should merely serve as a guide).  Also, note that the Moshiach wines include older vintages of top-tier wines that I have been cellaring for a while wines of limited availability, some of which aren’t going to be readily available at your local retailer.  It’s important to note that these lists are not exhaustive of all available wines (or even the “best” of all available wines), but rather a curated sampling of wines I enjoy and think you will as well.  I also note that in Israel many 2008 wines are being liquidated at sometimes ridiculous prices due to their Shmittah status. As you know, 2008 was a terrific vintage in Israel and depending on your personal view of Shmittah wines, there are some substantial bargains to be had.

Although one of my favorite customs (for obvious reasons), the tradition to consume four full cups of wine at the Seder brings with it a host of dilemmas, some of which require some careful thought and planning.  The main problem is that four cups of wine is a lot of wine to be consuming at one sitting (even for a five hour traditional Seder), especially given the fact that the first two cups are typically imbibed on an empty stomach.  Another issue is that folks tend to use the same silver goblets used for Kiddush for the four cups of wine.  While during a typical Shabbat or holiday this is not typically an issue as the potential negative impact the silver has on wine is easily remedied by immediately pouring the wine into a proper wine glass following Kiddush.  During the Seder however, the wine has far more contact with the silver as we go through the lengthy Hagadah.  Other issues arise from the common practice of only drinking red wine at the Seder and avoiding Mevushal wines.

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.  While these comprise some of the best available wines, in order for them to reach their full potential and be truly appreciated, many of them require some time to open up and certainly are best appreciated while savored (as opposed to being gulped down within the requisite time-period allocated to consume the necessary measurements required for the mitzvah). 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 a roomful of children, so over-stimulated from stealing a mess of afikomens, from re-enslaving us, combine to significantly impair one’s ability to fully enjoy and appreciate the complexities, nuances of flavor and aroma of these typically magnificent wines.

As a result, I suggest saving the bigger and more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during the actual Seder meal (and the numerous subsequent holiday meals, and finding other good wines to use for the four cups.  Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I stick with red wines for all four cups and choose my wines based on a few simple principles.  It is Pesach and we are celebrating our freedom from slavery and becoming a nation so top quality wine is still a pre-requisite.  Given the number of participants and the widely diverse levels of wine appreciation, I also look for relatively affordable wines.  While a 1-2% differential in AbV might not seem like a lot, spread across at least four full cups of wine, it can make a difference.  Therefore, many folks try to seek out wines that are lower in alcohol (and I am not talking about the 3% Kesser stuff – while it fulfils the requirement from a strictly legal perspective, it certainly isn’t worthy of your Seder table), with 12% or 13% AbV, as opposed to the 14-15.5% AbV New World wines we are showered with from all parts of the globe.  Therefore, I look for top quality, medium bodied and relatively simple wines.  Over the years some of my favorites in this criteria have included Israeli Petite-Sirah from Dalton and Recanati, the Spanish Capcanes Peraj Petita (now also available in a very decent mevushal version), the French Vignobles David Cote de Rhone or the Ella and Alon blends from Galil Mountain.  My family’s Seder typically showcases a fair amount of Ella Valley’s Cabernet Franc, given my well-known personal affinity for the winery and varietal (the substantially lower prices in Miami don’t hurt its popularity either).  To the extent you are looking for well-priced and versatile white (or Rose), the Rose wines from Netofa and Dalton are nice options, as is Yarden’s Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (likely Israel’s best Sauvignon Blanc), Lueria’s Gewürztraminer, Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling and Dalton’s newly released Pinot (Grigio) Gris are all good and affordable bets.

Annual Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide

Under $17.99

While this list includes many good, enjoyable wines, as a general rule, the wines in this price range are not complex, cellar worthy or sophisticated (with very 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 result of recent vintages, former Safe Bet Wineries such as Recanati, Galil Mountain or Dalton cannot be bought blindly (although you are more likely than not going to end up with a quality wine, especially if it isn’t an “older” vintage).  Additionally, due to their [unfortunately] lower popularity, the more esoteric varietals like Petite Sirah, Carignan, Petit Verdot, Barbera and Gewürztraminer tend to be “cheaper” relative to their quality, making them good places to look for bargains.  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, Pinotage, 2011
(2)            Baron Herzog, Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2010 (US)
(3)            Bartenura, Ovadia Estates, Rosso di Montepulciano, 2011 (US)
(4)            Beit El, Cliff View, Carignan, 2012
(5)            Binyamina, Reserve, Chardonnay (unoaked), 2012
(6)            Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2012 (both the mevushal and non-mevushal versions) (US)
(7)            Carmel, Appellation, Chardonnay, 2012
(8)            Carmel, Appellation, Petite Sirah, 2009 (the Cabernet Franc is another winner)
(9)            Carmel, Single Vineyard, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Sha’al, 2009
(10)            Château de Valmer, Vouvrey, 2012 (US)
(11)            Dalton, “D” Series, Pinot Gris, 2013 (the Fume Blanc is also worthy)
(12)            Dalton, “D” Series, Petite Sirah, 2012
(13)            Dalton, “D” Series, Rosé, 2013
(14)            Domaine Netofa, Basse Galilee, White, 2013
(15)            Domaine Netofa, Basse Galilee, Rosé, 2013
(16)            Elvi, Cava, Brut, n.v. (US)
(17)            Galil Mountain, Ella, 2012 (the Alon is also nice)
(18)            Galil Mountain, Viognier, 2012 (unoaked version)
(19)            Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal, Syrah, 2010
(20)            Golan Heights Winery, Golan, Moscato, 2013
(21)            Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 (the Gewürztraminer is also good)
(22)            Goose Bay, Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc, Fume, 2012
(23)            Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 (US)
(24)            Hagafen, Riesling, Lake County, 2012 (US)
(25)            Herzog, Special Reserve, Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, 2006 (US)
(26)            Montefiore, White Blend, 2013
(27)            Porto Quevedo, Ruby Port, n.v.
(28)            Recanati, Rosé, 2013
(29)            Recanati, Yasmin, White Blend, 2013
(30)            Teperberg, Terra, Gewürztraminer, 2012
(31)            Vignobles David, Le Mourre de L’Isle, Cotes du Rhone, 2012 (the mevushal version is also worthy) (US)
(32)            Weinstock, Cellar Select, Petite Sirah, 2011 (the series recently made a qualitative quantum leap forward)
(33)            Weinstock, Cellar Select, Zinfandel, 2010 (the 2010 Cabernet Franc is worth searching for as well) (US)


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 remain in next week’s price categories of $30 and beyond, there are plenty of great ones here.  In general, I find Ella Valley, Dalton, Carmel, Herzog Special Reserve and the Golan Heights Winery to be consistent players in this field of $30 and under, notwithstanding the fact that they all also have more expensive terrific wines as well).

(1)            Agur, Rosa, 2012
(2)            Bat Shlomo, Chardonnay, 2012 (IS)
(3)            Bazelet HaGolan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(4)            Ben-Haim, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2010 (IS)
(5)            Binyamina, Reserve, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, 2012
(6)            Carmel, Kayoumi, White Riesling, 2012
(7)            Carmel Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sumuka, 2010
(8)            Château Royaumont, 2011 (US)
(9)            Covenant, Red C, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 (US)
(10)            Dalton, Alma, SMV, 2010
(11)            Dalton, “D” Series, Zinfandel, 2012
(12)            Dalton, Single Vineyard, Sémillon, Elkosh, 2012
(13)            Domaine Netofa, Tinto, 2012
(14)            Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2009
(15)            Ella Valley Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, 2012
(16)            Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, Crianza, 2008 (US)
(17)            Flam, Blanc, 2013 (the 2012 and Rosé are also great)
(18)            Four Gates, Chardonnay, 2010 (US)
(19)            Galil Mountain, Meron, 2009
(20)            Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2007
(21)            Golan Heights Winery, Heightswine, 2011
(22)            Gush Etzion, Loan Oak, Cabernet Franc, 2010
(23)            Hadju, Makom, Grenache Blanc, 2013 (US)
(24)            Hagafen, Dry White Riesling, Coombsville, 2012 (US)
(25)            Hagafen, Roussanne, Lodi, 2011 (US)
(26)            Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2010 (US)
(27)            Herzog, Special Reserve, Chardonnay, Russian River, 2011 (US)
(28)            Jezreel Valley, Chardonnay, 2012 (the 2012 Rosé is also quite nice) (IS)
(29)            Kishor, Kishor Vineyard, Rosé, 2012 (IS)
(30)            Lewis Pasco, Pasco Project #1, 2012
(31)            Lueria, Gewürztraminer, 2012 (try the Rosé too)
(32)            Lueria, Rosso, 2011
(33)            Psagot, Cabernet Franc, 2011
(34)            Psagot, Edom, 2010
(35)            Porto Cordovero, Ruby Port, n.v.
(36)            Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah, 2012
(37)            Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (the 2010 Cabernet Franc as well)
(38)            Recanati, Reserve, Chardonnay, 2012 (IS)
(39)            Shiloh, Barbera, 2011
(40)            Shirah, Vintage White, 2013 (US)
(41)            Teperberg, Reserve, Merlot, 2009 (The Cabernet Sauvignon too. Merlot from the Shomron is amazing)
(42)            Teperberg, Terra, Malbec, 2011
(43)            Trio, Spirit of Alona, 2012 (IS)
(44)            Tulip, White Tulip, 2012 (the 2012 White Franc also)
(45)            Tzora, Judean Hills, 2012
(46)            Tzora, Neve Ilan, Chardonnay, 2012
(47)            Tzora, Shoresh, 2011
(48)            Vignobles David, Le Mourre de L’Isle, Reserve, Cotes du Rhone, 2011 (US)
(49)            Zimbalista, Chardonnay di Zimbalista, 2012  (IS) (the Moscato is also good)


While the $16-29.99 range is the real sweet spot, this range is also stocked with high-class wines.  Unfortunately, most of these really should be priced in the lower range but have crept up in price for no justifiable reason.  It’s nearly impossible to find a YH Best Buy on this list, even though they are all great wines.  As with most higher end wines, especially those with a year or more of barrel aging, they need some time to open up.  A decanter can be a very useful tool when opening the more recent versions of the better wines, allowing you to derive substantially more pleasure form your liquid treasures that you might if you simply opened the bottle and poured.

(1)            Adir, “A”, 2010 (the Shiraz 2011 is also worthy)
(2)            Brobdingnagian, Petite Sirah, 2012 (the Pinot Noir is worth trying as well)
(3)            Brobdingnagian, Syrah, 2012 (I highly recommend the 2012 Grenache Blanc as well)
(4)            City Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Obsidian Ridge, 2009 (the 2010 Alder Spring Cabernet Franc as well)
(5)            Carmel, Mediterranean, 2009
(6)            Carmel, Single Vineyard, Samuka, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(7)            Chateau Moulin Riche, 2011
(8)            Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, 2011
(9)            Dalton, Single Vineyard, Shiraz, Choshen Vineyard, 2011
(10)            Dalton, Meron, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011
(11)            Domaine du Castel, “C”, Chardonnay, 2012
(12)            Domaine Netofa, Latour Red, 2010
(13)            Domaine Netofa, Ruby Port-Style, 2010
(14)            Drappier, Carte D’Or, n.v.
(15)            Ella Valley Vineyards, Vineyards Choice, 32/35, 2010
(16)            Flam, Reserve, Syrah, 2011
(17)            Four Gates, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(18)            Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Elrom, 2009 (2003 is Moshiach)
(19)            Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (The Chardonnay/Cabernet Sauvignon blend as well)
(20)            Hagafen Cuvee de Noirs, 2007 (the “late disgorged” version is also delightful)
(21)            Ramot Naftaly, Barbera, 2012
(22)            Recanati, Special Reserve, 2011 YH Best Buy
(23)            Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Syrah-Viognier, 2012 (the Wild Carignan 2012 as well)
(24)            Shirah, Single Vineyard, Syrah, Thompson, 2011
(25)            Teperberg, Special Edition, Cabernet Franc, 2010
(26)            Yatir, Syrah, 2009

Moshiach Wines (for more Moshiach Wines, check out my Best Wines of 2013)

As prices rose over the last couple of years, a number of wines that previously fit into the $30-50 range crossed over into the over $50 range, which for this guide, requires something more than just being expensive.  Moshiach wines are those really special wines; typically wines that represent top-notch winemaking coupled with the need for a bit of patience as these wines typically only show their best after some years of additional aging in the bottle.  Unfortunately, in this world of instant gratification, the majority of wines are consumed relatively shortly after they are purchased which, for most of the highest-end wines, is a crying shame.  While many top tier wines are ready to drink upon release (especially from the “softer” recent 2009 and 2010 Israeli vintages), some years of aging allows the wines to better integrate and really become the beauties imagined by their talented winemakers.  Over the course of the past year, I have attended a number of tastings dedicated to the pleasures of these aged wines and can only reiterate that aging and storing the higher-end wines for a few years can yield a stratospheric ROI and is time, effort and expense well worth undertaking.  Following on my new methodology from last year, I have listed the vintage for each wine that is the current release and added a parenthetical with the vintage I think is drinking best right now – making it a true Moshiach wine.

(1)            Binyamina, The Cave, Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (2007)
(2)            Capcanes, Peraj HaAbib, 2011 (2005) (the 2011 (2007) Flor la Flor as well)
(3)            Carmel, Limited Edition, 2009 (2005)
(4)            Château Guiraud, Sauternes 1er Cru, 2001
(5)            Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2005 (2000)
(6)            Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003
(7)            Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (2003)
(8)            Covenant, Solomon Lot 70, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (2008)
(9)            Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2010 (2006)
(10)            Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2006 (2005)
(11)            Flam, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
(12)            Four Gates, Merlot, M.S.C., 2008
(13)            Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2008 (2003) (“regular” 2000/1 Cabernet Sauvignon too)
(14)            Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Rom, 2008; Shmittah (2006)
(15)            Gvaot, Masada, 2010 (2008; Shmittah)
(16)            Hagafen, Prix, Mélange, 2007 (2004)
(17)            Herzog, Generation VIII, Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon, 2006
(18)            Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (2007)
(19)            Tzora, Misty Hills, 2010 (2006)
(20)            Yatir, Forest, 2009 (2005)