It’s time to embrace the fact that kosher wine not only can but does hold its own among wines of the world. Indeed, kosher table wines, like other table wines, are designed to make food taste better. Wine deemed kosher (meaning fit/pure/proper) generally is made by Sabbath-observant Jews under rabbinic supervision and without additives. Hygienically, kosher wineries are without peer. Ultimate quality is a matter of the right grapes being planted in the right places, and then handled with care to extract their optimum character. The bottom line is that with each passing vintage, winemakers everywhere—some of whom happen to make kosher wine—are becoming more attuned to their vineyards. When to pick which blocks, how long to macerate, which batches to blend, when to bottle—the learning process is paying dividends in the form of more well-balanced wines from all over the world. Why should kosher wines be any different?
The movement toward boutique production is especially strong in Israel, the cradle of viticulture, and not all of the young, small, new wineries are kosher. Meanwhile, kosher or not, these thoroughly modern wineries would like people to think of “Israeli wines” as routinely as they do Chilean wines or Australian wines. In a similar vein, the makers of Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand are aiming to rival their Marlborough neighbors, not just make a kosher wine. These are wines of a place first.
One caveat: kosher wines labeled mevushal (see back label, near kosher certification) have undergone flash pasteurization, which technically renders them fit to be handled by nonobservant Jews. As brief as this super-heating step is, some feel it imparts a slight cooked taste to the wine; others never notice. Some mevushal wines are very good; however, the most critically acclaimed kosher wines tend not to be mevushal. This might make for table conversation at wine-geeky Seders, but it’s not worth getting worked up about.
Selection of kosher wines varies; generally, the larger stores have the most options, but small stores may have handpicked their kosher wines and be better able to recommend ones to suit your tastes. Good values in whites include Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc, Cantina Gabriele Pinot Grigio (Italy) and Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand). In reds, Teal Lake Shiraz and Shiraz blends from Australia are spot-on, stylistically. And among Israeli wines, the Yarden portfolio is solid from the classy blanc de blanc sparklers through rich Chardonnay, cellar-worthy Cabernet and lipsmacking Muscat. Other reliable labels include Barkan, Binyamina, Dalton, Recanati, Segal’s, and Yogev—a special project by Binyamina meaning “tiller or the land,” devoted to showcasing specific growers.