2011 Pessach Kosher Wine Buying Guide

Holiday Shopping – Parts I & II

The weeks leading up to Pessach are among the US kosher wine industry’s busiest and more kosher wine is 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 truly a blessing, the tremendous choice can make for a somewhat stressful shopping experience. Additionally and most unfortunately, there is still a substantial amount of drek being pushed as quality wine; and many stores and online purveyors are selling old, dead and tired wines that are so far past their optimum drinking windows 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.

In order to assist with your holiday shopping, I am happy to present my annual Pessach Kosher Wine Guide, Part I. 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. 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 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!

As there are around 130 wines on these combined lists, I will also be providing a short list of my favorite ten wines in each category which I will post in a few days so stay tuned.

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, while 2008 was a tremendous vintage for almost all Israeli wines, it was also Shmittah and therefore most wines were not exported out of Israel. There are a number of 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 drinking Shmittah wine outside of Israel (or at all) and one should consult their local Rabbi with any questions in this regard.

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.

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 starting last year, 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 prerequisite. Therefore, I look for top quality, medium bodied and relatively simple wines. Some perennial favorites of mine include Recanati’s Reserve Petit Sirah-Zinfandel, the Capcanes Peraj Petita or two new arrivals – the Yarden’s Odem Merlot and the Domaine Netofa 2009. To the extent you are looking for well priced whites, Yarden’s Odem Chardonnay, Recanati’s Chardonnay or Yarden’s Viognier are all good and affordable bets.


Under $15.99

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 wines cost, this list has plenty of white wines which 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 Lirot).

(1) Alfasi, Reserve, Malbec-Syrah, 2009
(2) Barkan, Classic, Petite Sirah, 2009
(3) Barkan, Classic, Pinot Noir, 2009
(4) Borgo Reale, Prosecco, n.v.
(5) Cantina Gabriele, Montepulciano d Abruzzo, 2008
(6) Casa de Corca, Reserve, Douro, 2006
(7) Dalton, Canaan, Red, 2009
(8) Dalton, Estate, Petite Sirah, 2009
(9) Dalton, Moscato, 2009
(10) Dalton, Chardonnay, 2010
(11) Elvi, Classico, Ribera del Jucar, 2007
(12) Elvi, Matiz, Crianza, Rioja, 2008
(13) En Fuego, Reserva, Cava, n.v.
(14) Galil Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
(15) Galil Mountain, Chardonnay, 2010
(16) Galil Mountain, Pinot Noir, 2009
(17) Golan Heights Winery, Golan, Moscato, 2010
(18) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Gewürztraminer, 2010
(19) Recanati, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009
(20) Recanati, Rose, 2010
(21) Recanati, Yasmin, White, 2010
(22) Tabor, Galil, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009
(23) Tabor, Galil, Shiraz, 2009
(24) Teperberg, Reserve, Meritage, 2009
(25) Teperberg, Silver, Syrah, 2009
(26) Tishbi, Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009


This price range is actually 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, notwithstanding the fact that they all also have more expensive terrific wines as well.

(1) Alexander, Reserve, Gaston, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Shiraz, 2007
(2) Alexander, Reserve, Merlot, 2007
(3) Binyamina, Reserve, Zinfandel, 2007
(4) Bodegas Flechas de los Andes, Gran Malbec, Mendoza, 2009
(5) Capcanes, Peraj Petita, 2008
(6) Carmel, Sha’al Late Harvest, Gewurztraminer, 2006
(7) Carmel, Appellation, Petite Sirah, 2007 (also the 2007 Cabernet Franc & Carignan in Appellation Series)
(8) Dalton, Reserve, Wild Yeast, Viognier, 2009
(9) Dalton, Zinfandel, 2005 (the Shiraz Reserve 2007 is incredible as well)
(10) Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2007
(11) Ella Valley Vineyards, Merlot, 2005 (the Merlot from this winery is truly magnificent)
(12) Ella Valley Vineyards, Syrah, 2007
(13) Elvi, Adar, Cava, Brut, n.v.
(14) Elvi, Vina Encina, Ribera del Jucar, 2007
(15) Galil Mountain, Yiron, 2007
(16) Galil Mountain, Meron, 2006
(17) Golan Heights Winery, Gamla, Pinot Noir, 2006
(18) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Viognier, 2007 (a rare exception to drinking white wines early)
(19) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Odem Organic Vineyard, Merlot, 2006
(20) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Odem Organic Vineyard, Chardonnay, 2008 (Shmittah)
(21) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(22) Golan Heights Winery, Noble Semillon, 2005 (one of my favorite, non-Sauternes, dessert wines)
(23) Goose Bay, Pinot Noir, 2009
(24) Goose Bay, Viognier, 2009
(25) Hagafen, Brut Cuvee, 2007
(26) Hagafen, Cabernet Franc, 2007
(27) Herzog, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(28) Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah, 2006 (their Zinfandel is also great)
(29) Lambouri, Ya’in Kafrisin, Liamssol, 2007 (Yayin Kafrisin! How cool?)
(30) Porto Cordovero, Fine Ruby Port, n.v.
(31) Psagot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(32) Psagot, Edom, 2007 (available & drinking nicely, but the 2009 is much better & in the next price range)
(33) Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(34) Recanati, Reserve, Petit-Sirah / Zinfandel, 2007
(35) Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2006
(36) Segal, Single Vineyard Dishon, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (a truly great wine and a YH Best Buy)
(37) Teperberg, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (probably Teperberg’s best wine yet)
(38) Terra di Seta, Pellegrini della Seta, Chianti Classico, 2008
(39) Tzuba, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
(40) Tzuba, Tel Tzuba, Chardonnay, 2009
(41) Willm, Riesling, 2008
(42) Yatir, Red Blend, 2006 (great sale on this terrific wine at Skyview)


Under $30-50

(1) Barkan, Altitude, Cabernet Sauvignon +624, 2007. All three of the series are good and make a great comparative tasting.
(2) Binyamina, Avnei HaChoshen-Aquamarine, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006. This series is sometimes hit or miss – this wine is an easy hit!
(3) 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 and, while it’s only available from the winery directly, it’s well worth the effort. An elegant wine that goes well with food, it will age gracefully for another 4-5 years easy.
(4) Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib Flor de Primavera, 2008. One of my all time favorite wines. The 2001 vintage is easily a Moshiach wine and listed below.
(5) Carmel, Single Vineyard Kayoumi, Shiraz, 2005. There is something special about the Kayoumi vineyard although there seems to be some serious delay in getting the newer vintages to the US. The Cabernet is also really good.
(6) Carmel, Mediterranean, 2007. One of Carmel’s attempts to create a wine with “Israeli” terroir. Different and delicious.
(7) Carmel Vintage, Fortified Petite Sirah, Judean Hills, 2007. While not true Port, this is a delicious wine (there is also a 2004 vintage and a n.v. version floating around). I haven’t found tremendous variation among the three.
(8) Castel, Petit Castel, 2007. A “second” wine to the Grand Vin in price and name only – certainly not in quality.
(9) Castel, “C” Blanc, 2009. Fresh, crisp and delicious. A French, Chablis-like, wine made in Israel.
(10) Covenant, Lavan (Chardonnay), 2009. The 2008 is out of stock and was great. The 2009 is a different wine in character (and comes from different grapes) but just as amazing. Stock up and enjoy for a few years.
(11) Covenant, Red C, 2008. Easily the best Red C wine to date from the winery.
(12) Dalton, Reserve, Shiraz, 2007. As with almost everything Dalton makes, this is a delightful wine.
(13) Domaine Netofa, Latour, 2009. A great hit from Pierre Miodownick’s new winery – Domaine Netofa.
(14) Ella Valley Vineyards, Vineyard’s Choice, Merlot, 2005. Merlot is Ella’s specialty & it shows. The Cabernet Sauvignon is also really great but beware of older vintages that are past their prime.
(15) Four Gates, Cabernet Franc, 2006. One of my favorite Cabernet Franc wines and truly a tremendous winery. Four Gates wines are only available directly from the winery, but are well worth the effort and make for fantastic pairing with food.
(16) Four Gates, Pinot Noir, n.v. Given their relatively high acidity, Four Gates tends to make many n.v. wines, blending them across vintages. The n.v. Merlot is also highly recommended.
(17) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard–Tel-Phares, Merlot, 2005. The Golan Heights Winery is producing too many single-vineyard wines to list them all and some are a little overly jammy and oaky for my personal taste – not this one which is rich, deep and delicious.
(18) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard-Ortal, Syrah, 2004. I drink tons of Syrah these days and this is an easy favorite.
(19) Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2007. A few Gvaot wines are available in the US but they are insanely overpriced. Gvaot is too amazing to miss out on so do yourself a favor and get some directly from Israel.
(20) Hagafen, Prix, Late Harvest Chardonnay, 2006. One of my favorite dessert wines and available on kosherwine.com.
(21) 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.
(22) Hagafen, Prix, Zinfandel – Moskowite Ranch/Block 61, 2006. A big and powerful Zinfandel with plenty of fruit, spice and chocolate coming together magnificently.
(23) Karmei Yosef (Bravdo), Shiraz, 2009. I was instantly smitten with the Karmei Yosef wines when I tasted the 2007 vintage and am ecstatic that the 2009 vintages are now imported into the US.
(24) Karmei Yosef (Bravdo), Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009.
(25) Porto Cordovero, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2004. The only true LBV kosher Port.
(26) Recanati, Special Reserve, 2006. One of my all-time favorites and a severely underappreciated wine.
(27) Tabor, Meshcha, 2005. Another really nice wine that is tremendously underappreciated.
(28) Tanya, Reserve Har Bracha, Cabernet Franc, 2006. Tanya wines seem to be newly available (again) in the US market but are unfortunately over-priced. This wine is so good, it’s worth it.
(29) Tzora, Misty Hills, 2006.
(30) Tzuba, Hametzuda, 2006. I first wrote about the winery and this wine almost two years ago, but my recommendations stands strong at its finally peaking and is an awesome wine.
(31) Yatir, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006. As with everything else made by Yatir, this is an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon and well worth splurging on.
(32) Yatir, Viognier, 2009. An incredible Viognier but somewhat overpriced.

Moshiach Wines

(1) Barkan, Superior, Shiraz, 2006. A great addition to the Superior line from Barkan.
(2) Binyamina, The Cave, 2006. I shunned this wine for years as overrated but over the last few years the quality has quietly risen while the hype died down. Delicious and there is a new, old-vine, version.
(3) Bustan, Syrah, 2006. 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.
(4) Capcanes, Flor de Flor, 2007. The Peraj Ha’abib is a long time favorite of mine and this brand new wine introduced a few months ago is a legit contender to replace it as Capcanes’ flagship wine.
(5) Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib Flor de Primavera, 2001. Once you taste this wine the value of properly aging wine for future enjoyment becomes crystal clear (if it wasn’t already).
(6) Carmel, Limited Edition, 2005. Another example of Carmel’s move from power to elegance. An amazing wine that will age gracefully and provide years of enjoyment but is also ready to enjoy right now.
(7) Castel, Grand Vin, 2004. 2007 is the current vintage in the US and is delicious. Get your hands on some of the 2008 vintage of any Castel wine – superb!
(8) Château Guiraud, Sauternes 1er Cru, 2001. The best kosher dessert wine. Period.
(9) Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2003. Another example of the reasons to age wine for later enjoyment. 2005 is the current vintage and it was an awesome vintage for Bordeaux, however prices reflect it (luckily, the quality of the wines does as well).
(10) 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.
(11) Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003. A great French wine that is perfect right now.
(12) Château Quinault, Saint-Émilion, 2005. This Château certainly picked the right year for their first kosher release. Bordeaux as Bordeaux was meant to be.
(13) Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003. The 2008 is the current vintage but 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. A really big wine and a true California Cabernet with plenty of personality to match the brawn. A Covenant newsletter is coming in the very near future.
(14) 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. I look forward to tasting this wine over the next ten years – hopefully ample opportunities will present themselves…
(15) Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin Red, 2003. After all these years the Katzrin is still the Israeli Rock Star of wine and the one with the longest aging ability (I still have one 1990 and a few 1993 vintages I am looking forward to). The 2007 was just released but isn’t ready to drink yet.
(16) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Elrom Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003. The 2001 inaugural vintage of this wine was earth-shattering and still is but I am saving my remaining bottles for Yonatan’s Bar-Mitzvah. The 2004 and newly released 2007 vintages are also great but the 2003 is really special and truly a Moshiach Wine.
(17) Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Rom, 2006. I am still a little confused whether this or the Katzrin is intended to the “Flagship Wine” but frankly, who cares. I am just happy to have so many amazing choices. An incredible new addition to the Yarden label and surprisingly ready to drink right away (somewhat a result of the 37% Syrah) but a wine that will age for a decade at least.
(18) 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).
(19) Hagafen, Prix, Mélange, 2004. The 2004 vintage remains one of the best kosher wines I have tasted, the 2005 is great (and available on kosherwine.com) and the 2006 is the most recent release and well worth the money. Mostly available only from the winery, a few wines are recently available on kosherwine.com and worth trying.
(20) 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.
(21) Laurent Perrier, Brut Champagne, Rose, n.v. True Champagne makes my heart sing and this Rosé version from Laurent Perrier is a magnificent specimen that will make you feel the same and enhance any occasion or meal.
(22) Louis de Sacy, Grand Cru, Brut Champagne, n.v. My go-to Champagne now that you can officially no longer find a single bottle of kosher Nicolas Feuillatte anywhere – trust me, I have tried.
(23) Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007. I don’t understand how this wine is just now becoming available in the US as it’s easily Psagot’s best wine today. Grab as much of it as you can – trust me.
(24) Segal, Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005. Once hailed as the closest thing to a kosher Barolo, this wine is scrumptious. Current vintage is the 2007 which is also ready to drink but I much prefer the 2005. This wine has somewhat of a cult following that sometimes results in the amazing Dishon Cabernet (which was provided in the inaugural shipment of the Leket Wine Club) being overlooked.
(25) Yatir, Forest, 2003. Perfection in a bottle. The current available vintage is the 2007 which will be great in a few years but definitely needs some settling down time. Also highly recommended are the 2004 and 2005 vintages.

For additional Moshiach Wines, check out my Best Wines of 2010