Pesach 2012 Selections

The weeks leading up to Pesach are among the busiest for the US kosher wine industry with more wine sold during this time than the rest of the year combined. As the popularity of quality kosher wine continues to increase, the choices available to the kosher wine consumer are truly astounding and are continuously on the rise. To assist with all this decision-making, I have prepared a two-part Pesach Wine Buying Guide with approximately 100 recommendations of wines in all price ranges. You can see these lists and sign up for my weekly newsletter at

One of the Wine Club’s primary goals is to assist Leket Israel in promoting and fulfilling its mission of food rescue for the benefit of Israel’s poor and hungry. As we lovingly select our Pesach wines and prepare our Seder tables to celebrate this festival of freedom, participation in the Wine Club is assisting in freeing the 1.7 million Israelis (including 850,000 children) who still suffer from a form of bondage this Pesach—the bonds of hunger.
The other primary goal of the Wine Club is to introduce new Israeli wineries, wines and varietals. In furtherance of this goal, I have included in this shipment a delicious blend from the famous and newly kosher family winery of Flam, a Carignan (which is enjoying a massive resurgence in Israel) from Binyamina (a winery enjoying its own resurgence), a well-made Riesling from Carmel, an incredible and well-priced Chardonnay and an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon from one of my favorite wineries – Ella Valley. I hope you enjoy these wines as much as I do.

While delightful, the Jewish custom of consuming four full cups of wine at the Seder brings with it a host of dilemmas requiring some serious thought and planning. Chief among these is that four cups of wine is a lot of wine to be consuming at one sitting, especially given the fact that the first two cups are typically imbibed on an empty stomach. Another issue is that at the Seder most of us will use the same silver goblets we use for Kiddush and, while during the year the negative effect silver has on your wine is easily negated by pouring the wine into a proper wine glass after Kiddush, during the Seder the wine stays in your silver goblet for a far longer period with potentially negative effects on its flavor. Other considerations include the tradition of only drinking red wine and avoiding any Mevushal wine at the Seder.

Given one’s desire to honor the Seder in the best possible manner, people try to have the nicest and most expensive wines, which are typically full-bodied Bordeaux-blends or robust Cabernet Sauvignon wines. However, the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups and the requirement to rapidly consume nearly an entire cup of wine, combine to detract from one’s ability to fully enjoy and appreciate the complexities of these typically magnificent wines. As a result, I suggest and have, in recent years, done so myself, saving the bigger and more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during the actual Seder meal (and the subsequent meals over the holiday) and finding other good wines to utilize for the four cups. Being the traditionalist that I am, I have decided to stick with red wines for all four cups and will be looking for top quality, medium-bodied, relatively simple and inexpensive wines. Some perennial favorites include Recanati’s Reserve Petit Sirah-Zinfandel, the Capcanes Peraj Petita from Spain or a relatively new arrival from Israel – the Domaine Netofa 2010. To the extent you are looking for well priced whites, Yarden’s Odem Chardonnay (included in this shipment), Binyamina’s unoaked Chardonnay or Dalton’s Sauvignon Blanc Fume are all good and affordable bets.

Happy Passover, Chag Samaech and L’Chaim,


Over the last few years Binyamina has made tremendous strides in the quality of its wines, and is currently producing many great wines across a multitude of labels. Binyamina’s two winemakers, Sasson Ben-Aharon (who recently added the title of winery manager to chief wine maker) and the funny and gregarious Assaf Paz, produce both top quality wines in their flagship labels and really nice wines at their lower labels.

The winery currently produces wines in four major labels – Avnei Hachoshen, Reserve (from which the Carignan included in this shipment hails), Yogev and Teva. They also produce a potpourri of other entry-level wines under the Tiltan, Kramim, and Caesaria labels. Binyamina also owns the popular “Cave” label and recently released a spectacular “Old Vine” version for the 2007 vintage, but prefers to promote it as a stand-alone wine for marketing purposes.

Avnei Hachoshen is Binyamina’s flagship label, with seven wines in the series all named for a gemstone on the breastplate of the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest). The Reserve series has some really great wines, including the Zinfandel provided in this shipment and late harvest Gewürztraminer. Tiltan (Hebrew for clover) blends varietal wines across three vintages and is made in very limited quantities but is worth trying. The “Yogev” series (which is “farmer” or “man of the soil” in Hebrew) includes six blends and was created to honor the folks growing the grapes and lists the names of the actual growers on each label.

Binyamina, Reserve, Carignan, 2009: Carignan has quite a history in Israel and until recently was not anything to talk about publicly. As Israel tries to find its rightful place in the wine world, moving away from California-styled wines to its Mediterranean roots, creative Israeli winemakers like Assaf Paz are finding that there might have been a good reason for all that Carignan planting that went on in Israel over the last 100 years and this delicious wine is the result of his explorations. This vintage is the inaugural Reserve Carignan for Binyamina and is another rousing success for this rising phoenix of a winery. Made from 100% Carignan grapes that spent 12 months in oak, this is a full bodied and muscular wine whose power has been nicely reined in with gentle, near caressing tannins that play nicely with the black cherries, fruit and warm spices creating a near-elegant wine (with plenty of brawn throughout), which is surprising for a varietal not known for its elegance. A nice touch of earth, roasted coffee beans and leather joins the fruit, tar and smoke on the palate leading into a nice medium finish that pleases. Drinking really nicely now, this wine will cellar nicely and improve a bit through 2016 [both shipments].


Carmel was established in 1882 with the help of Baron Rothschild, owner of the famed Château Lafite, as a vintner’s cooperative in Rishon Lezion. While Carmel has a rich history with 120 harvests under its belt (they have never missed a harvest which is pretty impressive considering Israel’s history over the last 120 years) and multiple Israeli luminaries holding early positions there including Prime Ministers from Ben Gurion to Olmert, for most of its storied history it produced mainly sweet sacramental wines, grape juice and pure plonk. However, over the last ten years, Carmel underwent major financial, administrative and winemaking changes and moved into brand new facilities, all of which have resulted in its rebirth as a top notch wine making powerhouse, producing magnificent wines such as its flagship Limited Edition Bordeaux-type blend and single vineyard wines from the magnificent Kayoumi (and other) vineyards including the inaugural release of the Kayoumi Riesling included in this shipment.

Today Carmel accounts for just under 50% of Israel’s total wine production, producing approximately 15 million bottles a year across many series and price ranges, from grapes grown on over 3,000 acres spread across the country. In addition to the Limited Edition and Single Vineyard series, they produce wines under the following labels: Appellation (Regional), Private Collection, Ridge, Selected, Young Selected and a few other miscellaneous wines.

Carmel, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Riesling, 2010: Riesling is one of those magical grapes that seems to have been made to enjoy with food and this wine, with a touch of residual sugar and plenty of balancing acidity, is sure to please. The last release of this wine was back in 2006, but our thirst can now be slaked again with this release. As with every other wine Carmel’s winemaker Lior Lacser coaxes out of the magical Kayoumi vineyard, this wine is a near perfectly-crafted one, with a very aromatic nose and generous balancing acidity. Ever-so-slightly off-dry with plenty of peach, apricot, grapefruit, blooming flowers and hints of minerals on a crisply acidic background that lends itself to great food-pairing. A really delicious wine and definitely worth seeking out [Eshkol shipment only].


Ella Valley Winery is located in the valley of Ella in the Judean Hills, which has been a viticulturally important area for 2000 years. While, from an historical point of view, the aesthetically stunning Ella Valley is primarily known for the monumental show-down between David and Goliath, it does have other claims to fame. The first vineyards were very carefully planted in 1997 after extensive research as to best location and plots of land and used techniques imported from Napa Valley and the very attractive winery was constructed in 2001.

Ella Valley is currently producing around 220,000 bottles annually with nearly 40% of the winery’s production designated for export. The winery owns its two vineyards located in close proximity to the winery. Despite the fact that their Merlot is among the most interesting in Israel and they make what I feel is Israel’s best Cabernet Franc, the white wines of the winery are extra special with bright clean fruit that is elevated rather than dominated by oak (in the case of the Chardonnays) or manipulation (in the case of the Sauvignon Blanc) while remaining very well priced.

Starting with the 2003 vintage the winery created its reserve series, Vineyard’s Choice, and is currently producing excellent wines in three series: Vineyard’s Choice, Ella Valley and Ever Red. The winery also produces a private label wine for export – Hai. Over the last year or so the winery has replaced both its CEO and longtime winemaker, Doron Rav Hon, who had been with the winery since its founding. The winery’s current releases all “belong” to Doron and we will have to wait and see what impact Lin Gold, Ella’s new winemaker will have on the winery’s current releases but for now, lean back and enjoy this incredible Cabernet Sauvignon from Ella Valley as well as nearly almost every other bottle of theirs you can find.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: Ella Valley is one of the only Israeli wineries that actually blends their varietal Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot to punch it up (in this case, 15% of Merlot), but given their incredibly powerful Merlot, it makes sense and the addition does contribute nicely to the final wine, resulting in a rich and voluptuous wine similar to the Vineyards Choice version reviewed below with a little less retrained elegance. A rich ripe nose of black fruit with some red notes added including cassis, blackcurrant, blackberries and ripe plums, together with some spicy oak from the 16 months spent in French oak (a bit more new oak than the recently released Vineyards Choice version), some mineral flintiness, crushed Mediterranean herbs and some bakers chocolate. Much of the same follow the round and mouth filling full-bodied palate with plenty more crushed black fruit; toasty oak and slight notes of pleasing greenness all on a solid backbone of robust tannins that still need some time to settle down and play nice. Drinking nicely now, give the wine 15 minutes to open up in your glass first and then enjoy through 2015 [both shipments]


Flam has been one of Israel’s darling boutique wineries since its founding in 1998, with brothers Golan (the winemaker) and Gilad (head of marketing and business development) running the show. In the true fashion of any family business, their mother Carmi assists with the bookkeeping and they benefit from the incredible and sage advice of their father, Israel Flam, one of the patriarchs of the Israeli wine industry who served as a winemaker at Carmel for over 30 years (about half of them as head winemaker and a fascinating figure in all respects with an incredible story to tell). After years of gazing upon the winery from afar, as it won accolades in Israel and around the world, in 2010 Flam went kosher along with two other formerly non-kosher top tier boutiques – Saslove and Tulip, a decision that we are the direct beneficiaries of.

Located in the amazingly beautiful Judean Hills, an Israeli wine-growing region whose prominence continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the Flam winery is another Israeli winery (similar to Castel) making old-world wines with a Mediterranean twist. Currently producing approximately 130,000 bottles a year, the winery has three kosher releases on the market including the Classico included in this shipment and reviewed below. The Flam Blanc is a refreshing and crisp unoaked blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and the Flam Rosé is a Cabernet Franc-based wine (what is there not to like) that is an incredible summer and food-friendly wine, perfect for the spring weather coming our way.

Flam, Classico, 2010: This wine is Flam’s first kosher release of a red wine (together with the Rosé and Flam Blanc which are also hitting the market these days) and it is a wine well-worthy of the venerable Flam name. A medium to full-bodied blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot that spent six months in French and American oak, the wine has a rich nose of primarily black fruit including blackberries, cherries and cassis together with a nice streak of minerals, forest floor, toasty oak and some baker’s chocolate. Much of the same follows the palate which is loaded with tannins that need some time to integrate, more wood, some crushed herbs and a nice array of ripe fruit which is kept in check by the tannins and acid backbone. A long lingering finish of oak and chocolate rounds out this delightful wine that certainly bodes well for the coming releases of the winery’s upper-tiered 2010 wines which we should see in a year or so [Kerem shipment only].


Regardless of my adoration for the smaller wineries, the Golan Heights Winery remains the gold standard for Israeli wineries. Historically, this winery kick-started the kosher wine quality revolution. Their Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the Yarden series, whose vintages dating back to the early 90s, are still drinking very well and remain the most consistently good and reasonably priced ageable Israeli wine on the market today.

Until recently, the Golan Heights Winery produced wines under three labels – Yarden, Gamla and Golan. In 1990 they introduced a flagship red wine, the Katzrin blend, and followed with a Katzrin Chardonnay a few years later. The 2001 vintage yielded another ultra-premium single vineyard label, with a Cabernet Sauvignon from the El-Rom vineyard and a Merlot from the Ortal vineyard. These days, they are producing multiple single vineyard wines and have added Syrah to the range of varietals. A few years ago, they introduced another flagship label – Rom that was launched to rave reviews by the late Daniel Rogov and sold out rapidly. The winery currently produces three Chardonnay wines under the Yarden/Katzrin labels which include the “regular” Yarden Chardonnay, the high-end Katzrin Chardonnay and the included wine, the Odem Vineyard Chardonnay, which comes from the organic section of the Odem Vineyard and is consistently my favorite of the three (and among my all time favorite Israeli Chardonnay wines). With rich notes of clean fruit boosted by a relatively light hand with the oak, it is also a YH Best Buy to boot. All three wines are exceptions to the rule with respect to the ageability of Israeli white wines and they all get better after 1-2 years of age (although this wine doesn’t need any time to show its greatness).

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Odem Organic Vineyard, 2010: Grown in the organic Odem vineyard, this is one of the few white wines that actually benefits from a year or two of aging. An interesting tasting experiment is to taste this side by side with the “regular” Yarden Chardonnay and the Katzrin Chardonnay from the same vintage which helps one appreciate the different styles and flavors that can be achieved from the same grape with different wine making styles. A rich and fruity wine with loads of fruit on the nose including apricots, pineapple, pear, green apple and mango with hints of citrus, all complemented by a bit of toasty oak and a decent jolt of acidity. More fruit and wood follows on the palate which is augmented by a nice streak of minerals running through. While the wine is drinking nicely now, give it a year or so in the bottle and you will be rewarded with additional complexity [Kerem shipment only].