Making the Case for Everyday Drinking

One of the brightest spots in the New York Times is Eric Asimov, their wine editor.  His recently launched excellent “Wine School” series explores different varietals and I enjoy sharing (via my @yossieuncorked Twitter account which you all hopefully follow by now) the occasional articles in which he covers varietals sufficient represented in the kosher market to be of interest to my readers.

A recent article outlining his “indispensable case” of 12 wines for everyday drinking really caught my attention with imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, have tried to adopt the concept to the world of kosher wine, providing my own case of 12 wine staples representing easily accessible and affordable wines which provide the kosher wine aficionado with sufficient options for any time wine may be needed (i.e. any hour of any day).  While I outlining the best current QPR wines available (including pursuant to the “Hidden Gem” and “Cellar Defender” series or in the context of my Annual Buying Guide), this newsletter outlines my 12 staple wines that will get you through any scenario (excluding Chagim and other “special events” of the calendar (Jewish or otherwise) which need to be properly honored with extensive amounts of Moshiach wines).

While I tried to maintain the structural integrity of Asimov’s delightful article, this week’s newsletter required a number of deviations to accommodate the different circumstances under which your average kosher wine consumer operates.  First and foremost, the majority of wine that is consumed by kosher wine drinkers [unfortunately only] happens over Shabbat.  With wine such an integral part of enjoying life, it shouldn’t be regulated to the weekends but until we manage to change that, it remains a sad but true state of affairs.  As a result, my list includes two wines that are slightly pricier than the rest of the list (while not rising about the $25 level) which allows to properly honor Shabbat (and any potential host) without breaking the bank.  Another deviation is the higher ratio of red wines.  While the quality and corresponding consumption of white wines is certainly on the rise, red remains king (especially during the colder months we are entering).  Given the intricacies of kosher wine, I have also included mevushal options for those in “need” (going by the number of requests I regularly receive in that regard, there are quite a few such folks).  The last major difference is the diversity of wine regions which, while constantly growing, is still limited for the kosher wine consumer.  The vast majority of kosher wine still comes from Israel, with California and France right behind and followed by growing representation from Spain and Italy with Australia, South Africa and others bringing up the rear.  As a result, while Eric simply recommended “types” of wines, I have made specific suggestions.

Each of the wines had to be [relatively] easy to source, affordable (under $20), well-made and tasty (no plonk here my friends) and sufficiently distinctive to be enjoyable, both from one another and without clashing with the wide array of foods with which they would undoubtedly be asked to share table space.

Starting out as simply as possible, I wanted to pick a red and white wine that, if complete and utter disaster stuck I would be able to survive with just them.  In addition to the general criteria mentioned above, such wines would need to be as versatile as possible, while still appealing to as broad a spectrum of wine drinkers as possible (wine is meant to be shared, tough to do if nobody appreciates your esoteric choices). I am a big fan of Chenin Blanc and very much enjoy the varietal expressions coaxed out by Pierre at Domaine Netofa, but the abundance of character will likely limit my pairing options.  My current favorite everyday white wine is the newly released Jacques Capsouto Blanc.  In addition to its extreme affordability, it stands out for me as a refreshing and crisp blend which will pair well with a wide array of foods while remaining eminently enjoyable on its own and I have gone through quite a few cases since its recent release.  Another option would be a well-made Sauvignon Blanc with Jeff Morgan at Covenant and Eran Pick at Tzora turning out delightful [and different] expressions of the grape.  Take heed though, the potential austerity and grassy notes can limit pairing options along with the wine’s universal appeal.  While it would be easy to simply pick any of the lovely [and exceptionally versatile] Rosé wines as my “red” alternative that would be cheating (and sadly, availability wanes once the summer months pass us by).  The obvious choice for a versatile and well-priced red wine would be Beaujolais, whose annual “coming out” party is next week but unfortunately, other than a handful of tough-to-find good kosher versions (e.g. from Joseph Drouhin), there aren’t any kosher versions that would make the list leaving the next best option.  Similar to the role Galil Mountain’s Yiron used to fill, my current high-end wine in an entry level bottle is the Vignobles David Reserve.  Well-made and medium-bodied, the wine has plenty of earthy minerals and delicious fruit making it both easy to pair and still enjoyable after more than one or two glasses.  For those to whom the characteristic earthy and barnyard notes may be a little foreign, I’d suggest the Petite Sirah from Dalton’s D Series.  A little heavier than the Vignobles, it is more fruit forward which will appeal to a broader range of wine drinkers while still providing plenty of pleasurable drinking to the more sophisticated oenophile.  I could easily live off those wines but why deprive yourself when there are ten more slots to fill (and we don’t have Shabbat wines yet).

Picking my two slightly nicer Shabbat wines (and remaining within “affordable” range) is made easy by Recanati’s Petite Sirah in the Mediterranean Reserve series.  As well made and structurally sound as everything else Gil Shatsberg creates, the wine provides the same pleasures as the aforementioned Dalton while wrapped in a slightly more grown up body.  With loads of nuanced complexity accompanying the abundant yet controlled near-sweet fruit, the wine is delightfully accessible to anyone with whom you might find yourself sharing the Shabbat table with you (including your host’s children).  My second red Shabbat wine is almost as easy a decision with Ella Valley’s Cabernet Franc.  While not as great across the board as it used to be, the winery still provides a delightfully accurate expression of Cabernet Franc which pairs nicely with a smorgasbord of options, guaranteed to please even the more discerning palate while introducing them to a somewhat unknown winery.

With quality options of the two most quintessential food pairing wines – Riesling and Pinot Noir, unfortunately out of our price range, I move onto the next best option – the delightful Gewurztraminer that drinks delightfully on its own when loaded with Oriental spices and lychee, with the Yarden option being among my favorites within this price rage and well worth taking up a slot in our case.

For diversification purposes and enhanced pairing opportunities, Spain has recently proven fertile ground for uber-affordable, well-made and interesting wines (much like the general wine world) with many options available.  The Capcanes Peraj Petita has long been one of my affordable “go-to” wines and the latest release hasn’t given me any reason to abandon them.  Two newer releases, one from Spain, the Volcanus Rioja, a well-made and gutsy Tempranillo and the other from Portugal – Oscar Quevedo blend (hailing from the same winery as my oft-recommended affordable Port) which also fills the quality mevushal red option round out the geographic trifecta (another good mevushal red option hails from Italy – the Borgo Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).  Despite my desire not to include more than one wine from any particular winery, Recanati’s Yasmin white blend remains my first choice for an affordable white mevushal wine (with Hagafen’s dry Riesling easily topping it qualitatively, but losing the slot due to its deserving but over $20 price tag).

Rounding out my case would be two wines which are so unappreciated it borders on criminal, especially as they are among my all-time favorite genres – sparkling and dessert wines.  Sparkling wines can and should be drunk all the time and with nearly every food imaginable.  While my absolute favorite option (the Yarden Blanc de Blanc) is priced slightly out of range for this case, its younger sibling – the Gilgal [Gamla] Brut is a perfect bargain (despite forcing me to break my doubling up rule once again) with Elvi’s Cava providing a decent mevushal sparkling option.  Load up and drink on as a regular a basis as you can – everyone can use more sparkling [i.e. sunshine] wine in their life.

For many years kosher [and Israeli] sweet wines where the dumping ground for inferior grapes that could be pawned off in expensive bottles to unsuspecting consumers (save a few examples like Yarden’s Botrytis and Chateau Guiraud) but recent years have seen an explosion of quality options, albeit most remaining above the price point of this case.  Hailing from Chile, Alfasi’s Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is deliciously rich and unctuous with sufficient acidity to keep it from being flabby on the palate and a fitting end to any meal (with or without an accompanying dessert).

So that is my [current] list (collated below for your convenience).  While kosher wine hasn’t quite reached the depth and breadth of the general wine world, the wide array of choices that continue to grow on a near-daily basis should be sufficient for anyone to compile their own list.  I’d love to hear any thoughts or suggestions on my list and please let me know how you would make your own “Case for Everyday Drinking”.

Alfasi, Late Harvest, Sauvignon Blanc, Maule, 2011
Borgo Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2013
Capcanes, Peraj Petita, Montsant, 2012
Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2011
Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal [Gamla], Brut, n.v
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Gewürztraminer, 2014
Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Côtes de Galilée Village, Cuvée Eva, Blanc 2014
Oscar Quevedo, Douro, 2014 [mevushal]
Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah, 2012
Recanati, Yasmin, White, 2014 [mevushal]
Vignobles David, Reserve, Côtes du Rône, 2012
Volcanus, Rioja, 2013