A review of the Yarden Mount Hermon Red 2009 and the Casa Vieja Blanco and Anejo Tequilas.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week April 13, 2011
With Passover just around the corner, your wine consumption will likely be higher than usual – four cups at each seder, and more still at Shabbat and yom tov meals over the next several days. Here, then, are some suggestions for Passover libations covering not only wine, but spirits as well – for when all that food and family requires something just a tad stronger to take the edge off.
The Yarden Mount Hermon Red 2009 ($12) from The Golan Heights Winery is a terrific value-priced choice for this year’s seder. A medium-bodied blend of the classic Bordeaux varietals of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot, it has pleasant cherry aromas that lead into raspberry, cherry, currant and blackberry flavors. Medium tannins along with a touch of herbs and smokiness make this crowd-pleasing, non-mevushal (not boiled) wine an excellent choice for beef and roast chicken. Available at The Bottle Shop, Total Wine & More, Pearson’s, Bell Wine, and Calvert Woodley.
Established in 1983, The Golan Heights Winery is recognized as a leader of the Israeli wine-quality revolution, winning numerous awards and consistently importing among the most popular Israeli wines into the U.S. Owned by four kibbutzim and four moshavim, the winery is located in the village of Katzrin in the Golan Heights and produces quality wines in a broad range of varietals, flavors and styles under the Golan, Yarden and Gamla labels. Arriving in Israel in 1992 U.S.-born chief winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, a U.C. Davis graduate, introduced modern techniques and oversaw the rapid improvement in the company’s entire wine portfolio. A state-of-the-art winery and ongoing research costing millions annually keeps this winery among those in theforefront of Israeli wine production.
As for spirits, there are various enjoyable kosher-for-Passover-certified varieties these days. Keep in mind that non-grain-based products cannot be presumed to be acceptable as kosher for Passover. For example, it is often thought that any 100-percent potato vodka should automatically be acceptable for Passover, since potato is not a grain. While potato vodka is a good candidate for being made kosher for Passover, for that to happen, the distiller could use only a kosher-for-Passover source for amylase, the enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of starch intosugar. This is typically done with malted barley, which is most definitely chametz, so before buying it, would be best to check with your preferred kashrut authority.
As for spirits options, sure you can opt for the traditional nasty, cheap Slivovitz or rotgut Carmel 777 brandy, but why bother? Today there are a variety of excellent kosher-for-Passover cognacs, an assortment of extremely well-made vodkas and liqueurs, and now even a well-crafted gin. To add a very nontraditional note to your Passover celebrations, however, try going south of the border with a certified kosher-for-Passover 100 percent blue agave tequila. (Agave, the plant from which tequila is made, is large and spikey, and resembles cactus or yucca. It comes in many sizes and colors, but blue agave is the preferred species for producing nectar because of its high carbohydrate content.)
The Casa Vieja brand, made by the Grupo Tequilero Mexico distillery in Arandas, Jalisco, in Mexico, offers enjoyable O.U.-certified kosher-for-Passover tequilas in both blanco (non-aged) and añejo (aged) styles. The Casa Vieja Blanco (around $40) offers clean, moderate agave character, with aromatic hints of citrus, chamomile, peppermint, and pepper. Sweet and oily in the mouth, this blanco is pleasantly bracing, if somewhat short, with typical, intense agave dry-yet-fruity flavors with notes of grilled papaya and pineapple, floral honey, and green peppercorn, and additional whispers of white pepper and star anise on the short finish.
The Casa Vieja Anejo (around $45) is a smooth, bright amber-tinged, gold-colored tequila that has been aged for three years in white oak barrels, exhibiting aromas of orange zest, smoke and sweet caramel, with a dry medium-bodied, balanced palate featuring classic roasted agave flavors, with additional notes of salt, spice, pepper and a touch of honey on the finish – a dry, reserved style with a true agave character and a refined appeal. Both tequilas are available at Potomac Wines & Spirits in Georgetown and at various online retailers, but make certain to get the kosher-for-Passover certified bottles. L’Chaim!