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. In Israel, Rosh Hashana is nearly as busy a buying season as Pesach and wine buying is also more liberally spread out through the year. Even though the more than 3,000 different kosher wines being produced annually includes almost 100 disparate varieties of Fake Wines like Cream Malaga, Manischewitz, variations of Yayin Patishim and of course the horrid Blue Bottle Abomination, there remain far too many labels for any sane human being to wade through.
Elevated Stress Levels
I often discuss the many benefits of kosher wine proliferation; but the enhanced stress levels brought on by cooking commercial grade levels of brisket and matzah balls while attempting to eradicate every speck of dirt from the inside of your oven with a toothbrush highlight one of the few negative aspects of this bounty. With wine such an integral part of the Pesach experience, the massive amount of choices can create a particularly stressful shopping experience as one contemplates the near-endless number of choices on the shelves or webpage of your favorite retailer. Exacerbating the issue are several mitigating circumstances including the sheer number of mediocre-at-best available wines (along with an acceptable amount of true drek) and the unfortunate tendency of many retailers to part you from your hard earned krona by selling these less than worthy wines. Typically stemming from a lack of knowledge, occasionally more sinister reasons are at play so, like in any other transaction, caveat emptor. Other aggravating obstacles include lack of vintage transparency and the oenophilic “bait and switch” – advertising great deals for allocated wines without having them in stock and then selling you copious amounts of sub-par wines. Adding to the fun is the terrible fact that many stores and online purveyors continue to sell wines that are so far past their optimum drinking windows that it’s practically criminal.
Help is Here
Given my belief that wine’s primary purpose as a beverage is to bring pleasure, I have done the work for you and curated my Annual Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide from among all the various options out there. Hopefully the Guide will simplify your wine shopping and allow you to get back more important holiday preparations like peeling 6.5 tons of potatoes.
Following last year’s enhancement, the Guide covers my top recommendations for wines in the following five price tiers: (1) Under $18, (2) between $18-29.99, (3) between $30-49.99, (4) Over $50 and (5) Moshiach Wines. As most of my readers know, Moshiach Wines are wines that I would proudly serve the Moshiach, were I ever sufficiently deserving for him to grace my table.
Many of the wines on this list will not come as a surprise to my regular readers given their perennial appearance over the years resulting from the consistent excellence of their producers and the talent of the applicable winemaker. As years go by and the quality and quantity of top-notch kosher wines grows, the potential wines for this list gets longer, increasing the difficulty in providing this highly-curated list (listing every good wine would defeat the entire purpose of the list). Representing less than 5% of all commercially available kosher wines, the list should go a long way in easing the pain of sifting through all your options. For those desiring further curating, next week’s edition will also include a few of my personal favorites form each of the four different price points / categories. With the quality of white wines increasing year over year there are more white wines on the list than in prior years, especially on in the lower price ranges. If you are one of those unfortunate and self-proclaimed “I don’t drink white wine” people, please take this as an opportunity to try something new – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Fine Print
As a transactional lawyer with more than 15 years of practice under my belt, any guide would be incomplete without a few important caveats.
1. The Guide isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of every wine I believe worthy of your consideration. It represents a selection of the better wines available across different pricing tiers; each of which I recommend and believe worthy of your Pesach table. As you all know, my weekly missives are titled recommendations since I only write about wines I like. As such, wines previously recommended and not on this list still carry my stamp of approval (unless they are past their recommended drinking window).
2. Broadly speaking, almost every wine made by Flam, Gvaot, Hajdu, Recanati, Tzora and Yatir is worth buying (Dalton and Matar close behind), even if they aren’t listed below. Additionally, many of last year’s wines are still available on the shelves and remain in top drinking condition so check out last year’s list for additional suggestions and/or vintages.
3. Some wines may only be available either in Israel or the US and are marked as such. While there remain a number of wines that remain available only in their indigenous countries (e.g. Four Gates, Hajdu and Shira in the US and Mia Luce in Israel), the vast majority of recommendable Israeli wines are imported to the US these days (Shmita excepting) and most of the Herzog/Royal wines that were formerly “US Only” wines, are exported to Israel, making this list more useful across the broadly disparate geographic location of my 10,000 readers.
4. 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). Especially for Israeli wines, different vintages are available in Israel and outside of Israel. Where more than one vintage is readily available and still recommendable, I have listed both (I have also noted specific vintages to avoid).
5. It is always best practice to consult me before buying a recommended wine from a different vintage but in this case, given the fluctuation in quality of recent vintages and potential shipping/storage issues, I’d be even more careful than usual when utilizing this list to purchase non-listed vintages.
6. Prices can fluctuate wildly among the various markets so I average to determine the tier each wine falls into. However, listed wines in your local market may not always fall exactly within the listed price points (online price-checking is always a good idea as is asking retailers to match listed prices).
7. To ensure the practical functionality of this list, I have not included wines only available to wine club members and have significantly reduced the number of listed wines that aren’t generally available.
Seder Drinking Conundrum
Despite being at the top of any listing of an oenophile’s favorite customs, the tradition to consume four full cups of wine at the Seder brings a host of problems whose solutions can require a bit of advance thought and careful planning.
First and foremost is that four cups of is a lot of wine to consume 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 stems from the tradition of using a silver goblet for Kiddush (and the rest of the cups). While the easy solution of pouring the wine into a proper wine glass immediately following the recital of Kiddush works beautifully on a regular Shabbat or holiday, the lengthy Hagada ensures far more contact with the silver during the Seder. Other issues are caused by the common traditions of using only red wine and avoiding mevushal wines during the Seder.
With the Seder representing one of the most important meals on the Jewish calendar, people try to have the nicest (and typically the most expensive) wines possible, creating yet another potential conundrum. Despite being among the kosher wine world’s best, the top tier Bordeaux, Israel and California wines are not going to be properly appreciated giving the hurried manner in which most of the Seder’s four cups are mandated to be consumed. Many of the better wines are full-bodied, oak aged and boldly flavored; attributes not very conducive to Seder drinking. Between the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups, the halachik requirement to consume nearly an entire cup of wine rather rapidly and the need to keep a roomful of over-stimulated children from re-enslaving us all; most Sederim offer far-from-ideal conditions for enjoying such magnificent wines.
The Perfect Solution
Therefore, I suggest saving the more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during Shulchan Aruch (i.e. the actual meal) and the plethora of subsequent holiday meals while finding other worthy options for the four cups. Being a traditionalist, my personal custom is sticking with red wines for all four cups (although Rosé is a terrific compromise on all fronts), while using a few basic principles to choose the proper wines. Despite the less than adequate conditions mandated by our traditions, Seder night is one of the most exalted evenings we get to spend in G-d’s company, while celebrating our freedom from oppressive slavery and the coalescing of the Jewish People into a nation with collective responsibility for one another. As such top quality wine is still a pre-requisite. The tradition of large family gatherings that started with the first Seder continues unabated today, often resulting in a widely disparate range of palate preferences. Given the large numbers, to satisfy all comers (and to avoid fielding the inevitable questions about the horrid blue bottled abomination), I focus on affordable medium bodied quality wines that are highly approachable and enjoyable even without any oenophilic sophistication. Over the years, my “go-to” Seder wines have included Israeli Petite Sirah from Dalton and Recanati, Spanish wines from Capcanes and ElviWines like the Peraj Petita and Rioja and Galil Mountain’s Yiron. To the extent you are looking for well-priced and versatile white (or Rosé); good bets will be Rosé from Netofa, Recanati and Dalton, Sauvignon Blanc from Yarden, Covenant and Goose Bay, Pinot Grigio from Yarden and Dalton, Jacques Capsouto’s Eva Blanc and Carmel’s Riesling under the Kayoumi label. The Nik Weis Riesling would be a great fit as well but personally, I’m not going to be consuming German wine at the Seder.
During this busy buying season, retailers pull out all the stops to bring in your dollars with big sales everywhere. Between the increasing competition and online availability of most top-notch kosher wines, most wine 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.
With all the explanations behind us, I present my:
Annual Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide
This range includes many good, enjoyable wines. With few exceptions, these wines aren’t complex or cellar worthy. With oak barrels representing a significant percentage of a wine’s cost (actual cost and the time-value of aging), many of these wines have spent little to know time in oak (although oak chips can provide certain benefits without the heavy costs) contributing to their lower prices. Along with focusing on “Safe Bet” wineries, varieties less popular than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay tend to be cheaper given their relative lack of familiarity. As such, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Roussanne and Gewürztraminer will usually provide better bang for your buck and are good places to look for bargains.
Most of the wines on these lists qualify as YH Best Buys (wines especially worthy of your hard-earned cash).
1. Abarbanel, Cabernet Sauvignon, France, 2016 [US / mevushal]
2. Barkan, Classic, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 [mevushal]
3. Borgo Reale, Cantina Gabriele, Pinot Grigio, 2016 (also 2017 Rose) [both US / mevushal]
4. Borgo Reale, Primitivo Salento, 2014 [US / mevushal]
5. Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2016 [mevushal option also OK] (also the 2017 Rosé)
6. Cantina Giuliano, Chianti, 2016 (also 2017 Costa Toscana Vermentino)
7. Carmel, Appellation, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 (also 2016 Four Vats [Israel])
8. Carmel, Selected, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 (also Mediterranean Red Blend) [both mevushal]
9. Château Bellerives Dubois, White, Bordeaux, 2016 [US / mevushal]
10. Château Le Petit Chaban, Bordeaux, 2016 [US / mevushal]
11. Château Les Riganes, Bordeaux, 2016 [US / mevushal]
12. Dalton, Estate, Pinot Gris, 2016 (also 2016 Chenin Blanc)
13. Dalton, Estate, Rosé, 2017
14. ElviWines, InVita, 2016 (also 2016 Rioja Semi-Crianza)
15. Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal (Gamla in Israel), Brut, n.v.
16. Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Pinot Grigio, 2017 (also 2017 Sauvignon Blanc)
17. Goose Bay, Chardonnay, 2016 [mevushal]
18. Gush Etzion, Lone Oak, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016
19. Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 (also Lake County Riesling) [US / mevushal]
20. Herzog, Baron Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2016 [mevushal]
21. Herzog, Baron Herzog, Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, 2016 [mevushal]
22. Jezreel Valley, Levanim, White Blend, 2016
23. Koenig, Riesling, Alsace, 2015 [US / mevushal]
24. Lanzur, Chardonnay, Chile, 2016 (also 2015 Pinot Noir) [US / mevushal]
25. Sainte Beatrice, Instant B, Rosé, 2017 [Europe]
26. Tabor, Mount Tabor, Rosé, 2017
27. Terra Di Seta, Meshi, Rosé, Toscana, 2016 (also 2014 Chianti Classico)
28. Terra Vega, Pinot Noir, Chile, 2016 [mevushal]
29. Tres Buhis, Tempranillo, Yecla Valley, 2016 [US / mevushal]
30. Vitkin, Israel Journey, White, 2016
This tier is my personal sweet spot and I had over 100 potential wines before I culled the list. As the average price of a quality bottle of kosher wine continues to surge, it’s refreshing to find a number of wineries valiantly trying to hold their ground at affordable. While most great wines remain over $30, there are plenty of great ones here. In general, I find Carmel, Dalton, ElviWines, the Golan Heights Winery, Recanati and the wines under Herzog’s Special Reserve label to be consistent players in price range (while having terrific more expensive wines as well).
1, Amos, Rose, 2017 [Israel (for now)]
2,. Carmel, Single Vineyard, Riesling, Kayoumi, 2014 [US] / 2016 [Israel]
3. Chateau de Parsac, Montagne Saint-Émilion, 2014 [US / mevushal]
4. Château de Beaulieu, Montagne Saint-Émilion, 2012 [US]
5. Château Fourcas Dupre, 2015 [US]
6. Château Picampeau, Saint-Émilion, 2012 [US]
7. Covenant, Mensch, 2016 [US / mevushal] (also 2016 Red C Sauvignon Blanc)
8. Covenant, Zahav, 2016
9. Dalton, Alma, Ivory, 2016 (also 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon)
10. Dalton, Reserve, Viognier, 2016 (also 2013 Alma Crimson)
11. ElviWines, Herenza, Rioja (Crianza), 2012
12. Eviatar, Petit Verdot, 2014 [Israel]
13. Flam, Blanc, 2017 (also the 2017 Rosé)
14. Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2009 (also 2014 Katzrin Chardonnay)
15. Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
16. Gush Etzion, Spring River, Red Blend, 2014
17. Gvaot, Jandali, 2016 [Israel]
18. Hagafen, Pinot Noir, Coombsville, 2016 (also 2017 Don Ernesto Rosé [both mevushal]
19. Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 (also 2017 Dry Riesling) [both mevushal]
20. Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2015 (also 2015 Russian River Chardonnay) [mevushal]
21. Jacques Capsouto, Cotes de Galilee Village, Cuvee Samuel, 2016 (also 2016 Cuvee Marco Blanc)
22. Jezreel, Argaman, 2015 [Israel / Shmita]
23. Kishor, Kerem Kishor, Rosé, 2017 [Israel]
24. Les Marronniers Chablis 2016 [US / mevushal]
25. Lewis Pasco, The Pasco Project, BDX, 2016
26. Matar, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, 2016
27. Netofa, Domaine Netofa, Rosé, 2017 (also 2017 Domaine Netofa White) [both Israel]
28. Nik Weis, St. Urbans-Hof, Gefen Hashalom, Riesling, Saar, 2016 [US]
29. Or Haganuz, Amuka, Rosé, 2017
30. Porto Quevedo, Ruby Port, n.v. [US]
31. Recanati, Gris de Marselan, Rosé, 2017 [Israel]
32. Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah, 2014
33. Shiloh, Privilege, Winemakers Blend, 2016 [mevushal]
34. Shirah, Vintage Whites, 2016 [US]
35. Tabor, Single Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, Yosef, 2016 [Israel]
36. Tura, Mountain Vista, Rose, 2017 (also 2014 Heartland)
37. Tzafona Cellars, Nava. Blanc, 2016 [US / mevushal]
38. Tzora, Judean Hills, White (also Red), 2016
39. Vitkin, Vitkin Series, Petite Sirah, 2015 [Israel / shmita] (also 2016 Pinot Noir)
40. Weingut von Hövel, Riesling, Kabinett, Saar, 2015 [US]
41. Weinstock, Cellar Select, Chardonnay, Clarksburg, 2016 [US / mevushal]
While a lot of good options sit in this category, many of them really should be priced in the lower range but have crept up in price for no justifiable reason. It’s harder to sell wines in this price range than the one above or below it. It’s also nearly impossible to find a YH Best Buy in this range. As with most higher-end wines, especially those with a year or more of barrel aging, these need time to open up (often the current vintage should be regulated to a few years of aging since it simply isn’t ready for prime-time). In any event, do yourself a favor and get a decanter to ensure that you are obtaining maximum benefit from these wines in the event that you don’t or cannot cellar them before enjoying.
1. Adir, Kerem Ben-Zimra, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
2. Bat Shlomo, Regavim, Red Blend, 2016
3. Carmel, Mediterranean, 2012
4. Champagne Drappier, Brut Nature, Pinot Noir, Zero Dosage, n.v. [Europe (for now)]
5. Château Gazin Rocquencourt, Pessac-Léognan, 2015 [US]
6. Château Haut-Brisson, Saint-Émilion, 2014 [US]
7. Château Marquisat de Binet, Cuvee Abel, Montagne St. Émilion, 2012 [US]
8. Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, 2014
9. Domaine du Castel, “C”, Chardonnay, 2016 (also 2014 Petite Castel)
10. Drappier, Carte D’Or, Brut, n.v.
11. ElviWines, EL26, 2015
12. Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2016 (also 2016 Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon)
13. Hagafen, Brut Rose, 2015 [US / mevushal]
14. Hajdu, Hajdu, Syrah, 2014 (also 2015 Port) [both US]
15. Jacques Capsouto, Cotes de Galilee Village, Cuvee Marco, Grand Vin Rouge, 2014
16. Kishor Vineyards, Riesling (Dry), 2017 (also the 2015 Red Savant [shmita]) [both Israel]
17. Mia Luce, Syrah and Stems, 2015 [Israel / shmita]
18. Netofa, Domaine Netofa, Ruby Port, 2012 [Israel]
19. Netofa, Latour Netofa, Red, 2014
20. Pascal Bouchard, Chablis, 2016 [US / mevushal]
21. Recanati, Special Reserve, Red, 2014 (and 2016 White)
22. Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Ancient Grapes, Bituni, 2016 (also 2016 Marawi)
23. Shirah, Black & Blue, Syrah, 2014 (also 2015 Coalition) [US]
24. Terra di Seta, Assai, Chianti Classico, 2012
25. Tzora, Shoresh, Red, 2015 [shmita] / 2016 (also 2016 Shoresh White)
26. Tzora, Or, 2012 [Israel]
27. Yaacov Oryah, Iberian Dream, Gran Reserva, 2011 (also 2015 Eye of the Storm [shmita]) [both Israel]
28. Yaacov Oryah, Old Musketeer, Sweet White Wine, 2008 [Israel / shmita]
29. Yatir, Viognier, 2016
30. Yatir, Syrah, 2013 [also the 2013 Petit Verdot]
Over the decade of producing the Guide, many deserving wines were repeatedly excluded because they were priced over $50 and didn’t quite make the exalted “Moshiach Wine” club. Whether any particular wine is “worth it” is a subjective matter with a newsletter all to itself, these are great wines that will bring great pleasure while properly honoring your Pesach experience. Even more than the prior tier, proper aeration and cellaring will have a huge impact of extracting maximum pleasure from these wines.
1. Carmel, Limited Edition, 2012
2. Capcanes, La Flor del Flor, Garnacha (Grenache), 2014
3. Château Grand-Puy Ducasse, Pauillac, 2015
4. Château Haut-Condissas, Médoc, 2014
5. Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Léognan, 2014
6. Château de la Clide, Saint-Émilion, 2011 [US]
7. Château Moulin Riche, Saint Julien, 2015
8. Château Tour Saint Christophe, Saint-Émilion, 2014 [US]
9. Dalton, Matatia, 2013
10. Domaine Roses Camille, Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2012 [US]
11. ElviWines, Herenza, Rioja, Reserva, 2009 / 2010 [US]
12. Four Gates, Merlot, La Rochelle, 2013 (also 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon) [US]
13. Goblet Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendicino County, 2015 [US]
14. Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2013
15. Gush Etzion, Blessed Valley, Special Reserve, Red Wine, 2012
16. Gvaot, Masada, 2014
17. Herzog, Generation VIII, Cabernet Sauvignon, Padis Vineyard, Oak Knoll, 2014
18. Herzog, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll, 2015 (also 2014 Spring Mountain) [US]
19. Matar, CB, 2014
20. Netofa, Dor, 2016 (also the Tel Quasser Red Blend) [both Israel]
21. Shiloh, Mosaic, 2014 [mevushal but also non-mevushal] (also Yehoshafat Hero’s Edition]
22. Shirah, Power to the People, 2014 [US]
23. Terra Gratia, Red Wine, 2015 [US]
24. Tulip, Black Tulip, 2014
25. Tura, Mountain Peak, 2013
Moshiach wines are the really special wines that represent top-notch winemaking and plenty of patience on the consumer’s part to allow the wines the additional aging time in the bottle before the wine showcases all it can be (and the perfection intended by the winemaker). Unfortunately as our world continues to devolve into the pursuit for instant gratification, the terrible crime of consuming high-end wines shortly after they are purchased is a crying shame. While certain top tier wines are structured for immediate consumption and long-term aging, a few years of aging nearly always does good things for these wines and is worth the extra time, effort and patience. With the continued global expansion of my Rosh Chodesh Club concept (over 20 regular monthly meetings worldwide), more and more folks and getting to experience the immense pleasure derived from properly aged mature wines and with the recognition that a few years of storage can yield a stratospheric ROI, many more wines are finding their way to the cellar instead of the table upon purchase – which is a great thing!
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 they are all worth the extra effort and additional expense. Additionally and as is the case with many of the best wines, many become 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 and, for a number of the wines I have included (at least one of) the vintages that makes the wine fit for the Moshiach (buy the current vintages, store them properly for a few years and voila – house-made Moshiach wines).
1. Capcanes, Peraj Ha’Abib, 2015 (2008, 2009)
2. Château de Valandraud, Saint-Émilion, 2005
3. Château Giscours, Margaux, 2015 (2003)
4. Château Guiraud, Sauternes, 2001
5. Château La Tour Blanche, Sauternes, 2014
6. Château Lascombes, Margaux, 2015
7. Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2015 (2005)
8. Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003
9. Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, 2014 (2000, 2009)
10. Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 (2009)
11. Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2014 (2008 [Israel / shmita])
12. Domaine Rose Camille, Pomerol, 2012 (2005, 2006)
13. ElviWines, Clos Mesorah, 2015 (2010) [US]
14. Falesco, Marciliano, Cabernet, Umbria 2005 (also the 3 other 2005/2006 Falesco wines) [US]
15. Flam, Noble, 2013 (2011)
16. Four Gates, Frere Robaire, 2013 (2011) [US]
17. Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2013 (2008 [shmita])
18. Gvaot, Gofna, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 (2011)
19. Hajdu, Proprietary Red, 2015 (2011) [US]
20. Herzog, Special Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone Six, 2015 (2007)
21. Tzora, Misty Hills, 2015 (2008) [both shmita]
22. Yatir, Forest, 2013 (2008 [shmita])