Kosher-For-Pesach Wines Get Better and Better



Some wine recommendations for this year’s seder.


By Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  March 30, 2006


Castel C ChardonnayWhen shopping for Passover this year, be prepared for some surprises when you walk down the wine aisle. There are new names on the shelves including two very well-known non-Jewish properties that have made kosher-for-Passover wine. And some of the more familiar producers have released novel varietals.


A great way to start the seder is with a glass of the first kosher wine to come from New Zealand, Goose Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005. Crisp and refreshing, it has loads of apricot, peach and citrus flavors. For those who prefer a sweeter wine, try the slightly fizzy Rashi Moscato d’Asti 2003.


Ernie and Irit Weir are the proprietors of the Napa based Hagafen Cellars where they have made high-quality kosher wines since 1979.  Originally a sociologist, Ernie trained at UC Davis and worked at California’s Domaine Chandon making sparkling wines before spending a year working at Israeli wineries. Hagafen produces a number of different varietals which have won numerous awards, and its wines are served at many fine restaurants, as well as the White House.  Their current releases include the pear and apple-flavored Hagafen Oak Knoll District Chardonnay 2004 which also has a nice amount of toasty oak, and the refreshing, tropical-fruit-flavored Hagafen Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2005.  Hagafen’s red wines include the excellent Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, which has blackberry and dark fruit flavors with a hint of spice and licorice on the finish, as well as the medium-bodied Hagafen Pinot Noir 2004, which has delightful strawberry, cherry and coffee notes.


A highly regarded Israeli winery is Domaine du Castel, located in the Jerusalem Hills.  One of its best offerings is the Castel Grand Vin 2003, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend. It is full-bodied and enticingly complex with spicy plum, currant and chocolate flavors and a touch of mint on the elegant finish.  While it may be a bit young for this year’s seder, it is certainly worth buying now to serve in a couple of years. Another of my favorites is the tropical fruit and citrus flavored Blanc du Castel “C” Chardonnay 2004, a lush, full-bodied effort with layers of flavors including crème brulee on the finish.


Also from Israel is the very good Barkan Judea Pinotage Reserve 2002. A varietal most commonly associated with South Africa, it is medium-bodied with sweet spice, raspberry and dark fruit flavors. The Carmel Winery also produces a number of high-quality wines including the Carmel Kayoumi Single Vineyard Shiraz 2003. Well-balanced and medium-bodied with plum, blackberry, currant and licorice flavors, it drinks well now, but could also be held for a few years. Equally as good is the Carmel Kayoumi Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, an elegant effort with spicy currant and berry flavors and a touch of tobacco on the long finish. Worth looking for is the Segal Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon Galil 2002, another wonderfully complex wine with layers of plum, berry and currant flavors topped with a slight smokiness in the finish. I also enjoyed the medium-bodied Bazelet ha Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 that has slightly spicy raspberry and cherry notes.


The biggest surprises during my tastings for this holiday season were the kosher offerings from some of the best-known non-kosher wineries in the world. Chateau Leoville Poyferre is a classic Bordeaux property, one of the five “second-growths” as designated in the 1855 classification. Created when the great Leoville Estate was divided following the French Revolution, it has had its share of ups and downs including a recent long run of mediocre wines. In 1979 the Chateau was purchased by Didier Cuvelier who, along with the noted consultant Michel Rolland, greatly increased the quality of the wines.  The kosher-for-Passover Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2001 demonstrates the success of their efforts. It has black cherry aromas with deep raspberry and cherry flavors as well as a bit of anise and pepper. A well-structured wine with a great finish, it requires aging for a few more years to reach its peak.


As the original “garagiste,” Jean-Luc Thunevin is considered a revolutionary in the wine-making commune of Saint Emilion, producing some of the most sought after wines from France. Thunevin minimizes vineyard yields and hand processes the grapes to produce wines which more closely resemble “New World” reds rather than traditional Bordeaux.  In 2001, he set aside two barrels for a kosher wine. With vanilla and plum aromas, the kosher-for-Passover Chateaux de Valandraud St. Emilion 2001 explodes with black fruit and licorice flavors. A full-bodied wine with noticeable oak and a great finish, it will show best after a few more years in the bottle.

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