A review of the Hagafen Syrah 2007 and the Tio Pepe Fino Sherry.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 18, 2011
The seder meals are behind us now, but Pesach isn’t over yet. As we continue to enjoy the holiday, and the camaraderie of family and friends, some good wine can help make the rest of Passover as enjoyable as the first days. The Hagafen Syrah 2007 ($32) is an excellent choice, and matches well with the traditional hearty holiday fare. It is Hagafen’s sixth syrah grape vintage but the first from its new Weir Family Vineyard III, located along Napa’s eastern foothills. Stylish, medium-bodied and well-balanced, it has lush coffee, black cherry and mint aromas that lead into the typical syrah flavors of dark fruit, smoked meat, chocolate and pepper accented with spice and leather.
The finish is long and smooth without excessive tannins or the syrupy-feel found in lesser wines. Certified kosher and mevushal (thermally processed so that it can be handled by non-Jews). Available at Total Wine & More (Va.), Calvert Woodley Wines & Spirits (D.C.), KosherMart (Rockville), Potomac Wines & Spirits (Georgetown), and at various online retailers.
Napa’s multiple-award winning Hagafen Cellars produces some of the world’s finest kosher wines. Founded in 1979 by Ernie and Irit Weir, Hagafen wines have been served at the White House on several occasions and most of their wine is sold to and consumed by non-Jews, further demonstrating their high quality. The family-owned and -operated winery is located along Napa’s Silverado Trail between the Oak Knoll and Stags Leap appellations and boasts a very popular tasting room where each of its three labels, Hagafen, Prix and Don Ernesto, may be found.
For a refreshing aperitif, try the kosher version of the Tio Pepe Fino Sherry (around $22). Tio Pepe is the world’s best-selling fino style dry sherry, produced by the Gonzalez Byass Sherry House in the Jerez (pronounced Her-eth) region of Andalucía in Spain.
Fino means fine in Spanish and, accordingly, Tio Pepe is very delicate, light and elegant. This bright, very pale straw-colored white wine exhibits brilliant aromas of bread and yeast, green olives, almonds, fruit and brine.
The wine is bone-dry, offering a pleasing mix of flavors including almonds, walnuts, fruits, fresh olive oil, salty crackers and Granny Smith apples. Tio Pepe has a lovely long and smooth finish that is dry, refreshing, a little tangy, and a tad herbaceous. It is an excellent aperitif and seriously whets the appetite; regionally it is most commonly enjoyed with the meal itself. Not for all tastes, but an excellent and pleasurable wine, it should be drunk young and well chilled – ideally within a few hours of opening – but it’ll keep in the fridge for about a week without too much deterioration.
The production of Fino Sherry is hugely time consuming and labor intensive. First, a dry white wine is made from palomino grapes. The wine is then fortified to around 15 percent alcohol and then put in barrels (nearly to the top), where a layer of oxygen-inhibiting yeast called flor (Spanish for flower) forms on top of the wine.
This flor imparts much of the distinctive flavor of a fino sherry. Then all sherry wines go through a unique aging regimen called the solera system. In this dynamic system, wines from different stages of the aging process (typically over three to five years) are blended together so that the winery can ensure a certain consistency of product over different vintages. It is often said that this puts the young wines in touch with their ancestors. Sherry wine is, thus, always a combination of many vintages and so is never vintage-dated.
Gonzalez Byass has been around since 1844 and remains one of the few sherry-producing wineries that is still owned by the original family. Around a decade ago, Gonzalez Byass worked out an arrangement, under the supervision of the London Beth Din in the U.K., to produce a kosher version of the Tio Pepe, the flagship product of its portfolio. The nonkosher version is far more widely available, so be sure to look for the kosher certification before buying – it is also kosher for Passover. Available at Potomac Wines & Spirits (Georgetown) and at various online retailers. L’Chaim!