Public Service Announcement: You can skip the verbiage and scroll straight down to the bottom of this newsletter for the actual list (which this year includes all my recommendations in this week’s edition, instead of being split over two weeks), but I suggest reading through since the material below contains a number of tips that will enhance your buying process sufficiently to make it worthwhile reading.
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. While 3,000 annual labels a very large number, it includes 75 disparate varieties of Manischewitz, Cream Malaga, “Blue Bottled Abomination(s)”, Kesser and Yayin Patishim – none of which are really wine. That said, even excluding the deluge of alcoholic wine-pretending nonsense, there are still too many labels for me to taste every year.
While the smorgasbord of choices is magnificent, it can create a stressful shopping experience, especially around this time when trying to whittle down the hundreds (if not thousands) of choices up for grabs. Trying to separate the wheat from among the proverbial chaff makes it hard to decide which of these wines are truly worth your hard-earned dollars. Additionally, a number of mitigating circumstances add unneeded stress to the decision making process. The poor vintage issue we have discussed in the past, the abundance of mediocre-at-best wines, the substantial amount of drek and the unfortunate tendency of many retailers to exclude vintages from their offering circulars (or worse, misstate vintages) all combine to make it an even more harrowing experience than it needs to be. Additionally, many stores and online purveyors continue to sell wines that are so old and tired (i.e. past their optimum drinking windows) that it’s practically criminal. As a reminder (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!
In order to assist with this arduous task, 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. As most of my readers know, Moshiach Wines are wines that I would proudly serve the Moshiach, were he ever to grace my table. As discussed last year, there are a fair number of great wines that are over $50 but aren’t quite “Moshiach wine” level. Next weeks newsletter will list my top wines in this range (i.e. over $50 but not quite a Moshiach wine).
Many of the wines on this list will not be a surprise to anyone as many of the wines & wineries are perennial repeaters on my list which is understandable, given the consistent excellence of the better wineries 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 and the difficulty in culling wines harder (listing every worthy wine would defeat the entire purpose of the list). With less than 5% of available wines on this list, it should go a long way in easing the pain of sifting through the options. However, if more assistance is needed, next week’s edition will include a list of some of my favorite things –my personal favorites from each of the four 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.
With lawyering being my “day job”, the provision of such a guide, requires a number of caveats as follows:
- 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 – the key word here being “recommend”. I provide weekly recommendations and only write about wines I like, so if I have previously suggested a wine that isn’t listed here – go for it.
- In general, I believe nearly every wine made by Flam, Gvaot, Recanati, Tzora and Yatir is worth buying (with Dalton very very close behind), even if they aren’t listed below. Additionally, many of last year’s wines are still available on the shelves, are still good and may simply not have been relisted this year. Check out last year’s list for additional suggestions and/or vintages.
- Some of these wines may only be available either in Israel or the US and are marked (to the best of my knowledge) appropriately ([Israel] for Israel and [US] for the United States). While recent developments have seen the vast majority of Israeli wine imported to the US (Shmita excepting) and many of the “US”-marked now being imported into Israel by Zur, they are tough to find and priced completely out-of-whack with the prince ranges below so they remain listed as US only (although if you live in Israel and try hard enough, most of the wines within Royal’s portfolio can be found there).
- 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). For many of the wines different vintages are available in and out of Israel. Where more than one vintage is available and good, I have listed both.
- 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 and potential shipping/storage issues, it is especially important when utilizing this list to purchase different vintages than those specifically listed.
- Prices can fluctuate wildly, not only among countries and States but even throughout the five boroughs of New York and as a result, the listed wines might not fall exactly within the listed price points (online price-checking is always a good idea, especially since most retailers will match any listed price).
- Interestingly enough, the “worst” category to qualify for is good wines over $50 that don’t quite make Moshiach Wine level, since there simply no slot for them. While pricing is not typically a criteria for my recommendations, in this annual Pesach Guide price is a significant factor which results in a fair number of really good wines being excluded. As always, if it’s been previously recommended – go for it and please feel free to reach out to me directly for any wines you are thinking about in that range that aren’t listed.
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 with it a host of dilemmas, the solutions to which sometime 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, for many, tradition mandates using silver goblets (similarly to the Kiddush dilemma we have discussed [and solved for] in the past). However, while the potentially negative impact from the silver is easily remedied by immediately pouring the wine into a proper wine glass following Kiddush during a typical Shabbat or holiday, 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.
With the Seder representing one of the most important meals on the Jewish calendar, people try to have the nicest (and usually the expensive wines) possible. Despite attempts by Israeli and Spanish producers to best them, the kosher “runs” of French wines remain the most expensive of all, with other typical candidates for Seder Supremacy including robust Cabernet Sauvignon wines or big, bold and oaky blends. Despite these wines being among the kosher wine world’s best, the majority require significant “air time” to achieve their true potential and one will certainly not be able to properly appreciate them while gulping the wine down within the requisite time-period for the mitzvah. The combination of the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups along with the 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 combine to significantly impair one’s ability to fully enjoy such magnificent wines.
As a result, I suggest saving the more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during the actual meal (and the multitude of 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. With the nearly 40 folks at our family Seder representing an extremely diverse range of palate preferences, I try to focus on affordable wines that are medium bodied and don’t require a lot of patience of oenophilic sophistication. Some of my “go-to” Seder wines over the years 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 Reserve Cote de Rhone, Ella Valley’s Cabernet Franc and Galil Mountain’s Yiron. To the extent you are looking for well-priced and versatile white (or Rosé), the Rosé wines from Netofa, Recanati and Dalton are nice options, as is Yarden’s Sauvignon Blanc, Lueria’s Gewürztraminer, Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling and Dalton’s Viognier or newly released Pinot (Grigio) Gris are all good and affordable bets.
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 wish you all Shabbat Shalom and present my:
Annual Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide
With increasing technical capabilities and winemaking skills, this price range list includes many good, enjoyable wines with many new wines from Spain and Portugal providing great value alongside a newcomer from Chile. With few exceptions, the wines in this price range are usually not complex or cellar worthy. As oak barrels are a significant component of a wine’s cost (both actual cost and the time-value of the aging time), this list has plenty of white wines that typically spend little or no time in oak, resulting in lower prices. Along with focusing on “Safe Bet” wineries, another good tip is that less popular varietals like Petite Sirah, Carignan, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Roussanne and Gewürztraminer usually provide better bang for your buck and are good places to look for bargains. In Israel, many of the white and Rosé wines are from the 2015 Shmita, so the latest vintage should be acquired.
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).
- Alfasi, Late Harvest, Sauvignon Blanc, Maule, 2011 [US]
- Baron Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2014 [mevushal] [US]
- Baron Herzog, Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, 2015 [mevushal] [US]
- Binyamina, Reserve, Chardonnay, Unoaked, 2014
- Borgo Reale, Montepulciano di Abruzzo, 2013 [mevushal] [US]
- Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2014
- Carmel, Vineyards, Old Vine Carignan, 2009
- Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Cuvee Eva Blanc, 2014
- Dalton, D, Fumé Blanc, 2014 (also the Pinot Gris)
- Dalton, D, Petite Sirah, 2012
- Dalton, Reserve, Viognier, 2014 (also the 2014 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc)
- Domaine Netofa, Basse Galilee, White, 2014
- Domaine Netofa, Basse Galilee, Rosé, 2014
- Elvi, Adar, Cava, Brut, n.v. [mevushal] [US]
- Elvi, Herenza, Rioja (Semi-Crianza), 2013
- Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal (Gamla in Israel), Brut, n.v.
- Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal, (Gamla in Israel), Pinot Noir, 2013
- Golan Heights Winery, Golan, Moscato, 2014
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 (Shmittah) (also the Gewürztraminer)
- Hagafen, Don Ernesto, Beret Rosé, 2015 [mevushal] [US]
- Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 [mevushal] [US]
- Oscar Quevedo, Douro, 2014 [mevushal] [US]
- Porto Quevedo, Ruby Port, n.v. [US]
- Recanati, Rosé, 2015
- Recanati, Yasmin, White Blend, 2014 [mevushal]
- Tabor, Adama, Merlot, 2014 (also the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc)
- Tabor, Mount Tabor, Chardonnay, 2014 (also the 2015 Adama Rosé [Israel])
- Terrenal, Seleccionado, Red Wine, 2014 [US]
- Volcanus, Rioja, 2013 (the Petit Verdot) [US]
- Weinstock, Cellar Select, Petite Sirah, 2012
This price range is the sweet spot for me (I had 180 wines to recommend before I culled the list). As the price of kosher wine continues to rise to ridiculous levels, there are a number of wineries that maintain tremendous quality without pushing prices out of the reach of most people. While the majority of great kosher wines remain in the price ranges of $30 and beyond, there are plenty of great ones here. In general, I find Dalton, Recanati, Carmel, Herzog Special Reserve and the Golan Heights Winery to be consistent players in price range (while having terrific more expensive wines as well).
- 100 Tropez, Côtes de Provence, Rosé, 2014 [US]
- Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014
- Agur, Rosé, 2014
- Bat Shlomo, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 (also the Rose; 2015 is Shmita)
- Beit El, Cliff View, Carignan, 2013
- Binyamina, Reserve, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, 2012
- Bokobsa Selection, Chavignol, Sancerre, 2012 [US]
- Carmel, Single Vineyard, Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Sha’al, 2010
- Carmel, Single Vineyard, Riesling, Kayoumi, 2013
- Château Fourcas Dupre, 2012 [US]
- Château Montroc, Lussac Saint-Émilion, 2014 [US]
- Château Royaumont, 2013 [US]
- Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, 2014 (also the 2015 Red C Sauvignon Blanc)
- Dalton, 20th Anniversary Edition, White, 2014 (also the 2014 Alma, White)
- Dalton, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013
- Dalton, Single Vineyard, Semillon, El-Kosh, 2013
- Damien Gachot-Monot, Bourgogne, 2010 (also the Côte de Nuits-Villages) [US]
- Domaine Netofa, Tinto, 2013 [Israel] (only mevushal in US & not on same level)
- Ella Valley Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014
- Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, Crianza, 2010
- Flam, Blanc, 2014 (also the 2015 Rosé [Shmita] [Israel])
- Four Gates, Chardonnay, 2011 [US]
- Galil Mountain, Yiron, 2012
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2007 / 2008 [Shmita]
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard, Chardonnay, Odem, 2013 (also the 2013 Katzrin Chardonnay)
- Goose Bay, Blanc de Pinot Noir (Rosé), 2014 (also the 2013 “regular” Pinot Noir)
- Gush Etzion, Spring River, White, 2014
- Gush Etzion, Pinot Noir, 2013
- Gvaot, Gvaot, Merlot, 2013 (also the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Herzog, Special Edition, Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard, 2012 [mevushal] [US]
- Hagafen, Late Harvest, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 (also the 2014 Roussanne) [mevushal] [US]
- Hagafen, Pinot Noir, Coombsville, 2013 [mevushal] [US]
- Hagafen, White Riesling, Dry, 2014 [mevushal] [US]
- Hajdu, Makom, Grenache Blanc, 2015 (also the 2015 Hajdu Grenache Rosé) [US]
- Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2013 [mevushal] [US]
- Jezreel Valley, White Blend, 2014
- Joseph Mellot, La Graveliere, Sancerre, 2014 [US]
- Kishor, Kerem Kishor, White, 2014 (also the 2014 Savant Viognier
- Lewis Pasco, Pasco Project #2, 2013
- Lueria, Gewürztraminer, 2014 / 2015 [Shmita]
- Pacifica, Evan’s Collection, Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2012 [US]
- Porto Cordovero, Ruby Port, n.v.
- Psagot, Edom, 2013
- Psagot, Rosé, 2014
- Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah, 2013
- Recanati, Reserve, Merlot, 2013 (also the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Recanati, Gris de Marselan (Rosé), 2015 [Shmita] [Israel]
- Shiloh, Shor, Barbera, 2012
- Shirah, Vintage Whites, 2014 (also the 2014 Grüner Veltliner) [US]
- Tura, Mountain Heights, Merlot, 2012
- Tzafona Cellars, Ice Wine, Vidal, Niagara Peninsula 2014 [US]
- Tzora, Judean Hills, White (and Red), 2014
- Tzora, Shoresh, White, 2014 [Israel]
- Tzuba, Metzuda, Chardonnay, 2014
- Vignobles David, Le Mourre de L’Isle, Reserve, Cotes du Rhone, 2012 [mevushal only – some batches of 2012 non-mevushal are spoiled]
- Yatir, Viognier, 2014 (Israel)
While the $18-29.99 range is the real sweet spot, this range is also stocked with high-class wines. Unfortunately, many 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 than if you simply opened the bottle and poured.
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 mentioned above, a selection of recommendations for Wine Over $50 will be added next week (they include the Capcanes Old Vine Carignan, Chateau Piada and Shirah Geshem, among many others).
- Adir, a, Lavan, 2013
- Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
- Bat Shlomo, Betty’s Cuvee, 2012
- Borgo Reale, Signi, Brunello di Montalcino, 2007 [US]
- Carmel, Mediterranean, 2010
- Château Les Roches de Yon Figeac, 2012 [US]
- Château Maïme, Côtes de Provence, Rosé, 2014 [US]
- Chateau Le Vieux Chantre, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion, 2013 [US]
- Dalton, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013
- Domaine du Castel, “C”, Chardonnay, 2014 (also the 2013 Petite Castel)
- Domaine Netofa, Latour Netofa, Red, 2012 (also the 2013 Latour White)
- Domaine Netofa, Ruby Port, 2012 [Israel]
- Drappier, Carte D’Or, Brut, n.v. (the Carte Blanche as well) [US]
- Earl Christian Bonfils, Gigondas, Grand Reserve, 2014
- Elvi, EL26, 2010 [US]
- Flam, Reserve, Merlot, 2012 (also the 2012 Reserve Syrah)
- Four Gates, Merlot, 2012 (also the 2013 Syrah & 2011 Chardonnay) [US]
- Gat Shomron, 24K, “Ice Wine-Style” Viognier, 2011 [Israel]
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Brut, Rosé, 2010
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden T2, 2009
- Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2014 (also the 2013 Petit Verdot)
- Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2013 (also 2012 Masada Pinot but more expensive)
- Hagafen, Brut Cuvee, 2012
- Herzog, Eagles Landing, Syrah, Reserve, Paso Robles, 2012 (also the 2013 Pinot Noir) [US]
- Hajdu, Adventurers Guild, Nebbiolo, 2014 [US]
- Hajdu, Grenache, 2014 (also the 2014 Syrah)
- Jezreel Valley, Single Vineyard, Carignan, 2012
- Lewis Pasco, Liquidity, 2012
- Lueria, Grand Vital, 2011
- Matar, Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, 2014 (also the 2014 Chenin Blanc [Israel])
- Mia Luce, Rosso, 2013 (Israel)
- Ramot Naftaly, Barbera, 2013 (also the Malbec and Petit Verdot)
- Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Carignan, 2013 (also the 2013 Marselan and Syrah)
- Recanati, Special Reserve, Red, 2012
- Shiloh, Legend II, 2012
- Shiloh, Secret Reserve, Merlot, 2013
- Shirah, Bro-Duex, 2013 (also the 2013 Counter-Punch) [US]
- Tulip, Reserve, Syrah, 2013
- Trio, Special Cuvee, 2011
- Tzora, Shoresh, Red, 2013
- Yatir, Petit Verdot, 2010
Moshiach Wines (for more Moshiach Wines, check out my Best Wines of 2014)
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 to earn the Moshiach wine moniker. 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” and more 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.
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 (buy them, store them properly for a few years, open and enjoy profusely – you can thank me later). For some of the Moshiach wines I have added a parenthetical including (one of) the vintages I deem worthy of drinking now as a true Moshiach wine.
- Binyamina, The Cave, Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vines, 2012 (2008)
- Capcanes, La Flor de Primavera, 2012 (2007)
- Capcanes, Peraj Ha’Abib, 2013 (2000, 2005, 2008)
- Carmel, Limited Edition, 2010 (2005)
- Château Guiraud, Sauternes 1er Cru, 2000 (also the 1999 and 2001)
- Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2005 (2000)
- Château La Clide, Saint-Émilion, 2011
- Château Montviel, Pomerol, 2004 [US]
- Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003 [US]
- Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, 2000 (also the 1995. If you have it –share!) [US]
- Château de Valandraud, Saint-Émilion, 2005 [US]
- Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (2006) [US]
- Covenant, Solomon Lot 70, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (2008)
- Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2013 (2006)
- Domaine Rose Camille, Pomerol, 2011 (2006) [US]
- Elvi, Clos Mesorah, 2013 (2010) [US]
- Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, Reserva, 2010 (2009) [US]
- Flam, Noble, 2011 (2010)
- Flam, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (2010)
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2008 (2000, 2003)
- Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Rom, 2012; (2007, 2008)
- Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (2008)
- Gvaot, Masada, 2012 (may be their best wine yet) (2006)
- Hagafen, Prix, Mélange, 2009 (2005) [US]
- Hajdu, Proprietary Red, 2013 (2012) [US]
- Herzog, Special Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill, 2013 (2009) [mevushal] [US]
- Matar, CB, 2013 (2012)
- Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 (2007)
- Tzora, Misty Hills, 2013 (2007)
- Vignobles David, Les Masques, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 [US]
- Yatir, Forest, 2011 (2006)