Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound
Passover’s coming. What will you be drinking?
If only this were the most pressing question as we move into the weeklong love-hate holiday of matzoh (with butter? Tuna? Cream cheese? In the form of soggy pizza?), family table drama that rivals only Thanksgiving, frenzied cleaning that rivals only bedbug extermination.
Let us make this easy on you. On one of your 400 trips to a local supermarket stocking kosher-for-Passover supplies for one more jar of jellied gefilte fish (because Uncle Harold always wants an extra piece!) and macaroons (because, admit it, you could eat a whole can!) and one more case of matzoh (because what if we run out?!) just buy these wines. Okay?
Every year, if you haven’t caught on over the past decade of local Jewish reportage, the JTNews editorial staff and friends are treated to a kosher wine tasting courtesy of Michael Friend of Royal Wine Corp. Each year, Michael introduces us to new and known kosher-for-Passover wines — and like, er, a fine wine, the selection gets better every year.
We’d like to offer a special thanks to Michael, and to the Summit at First Hill for offering us the use of their Chai Lounge overlooking Seattle, and to this year’s panel of tasters: Joel and Barbara Konikor, Ned Porges, Adam Balkany, Dina Kaufthal, Daniel Birk, Phillip and Dayna Klitzner, Zane Brown, Avi and Rachel Polsky, and Joshua Pactor.
All wines are mevushal unless otherwise noted.
Baron Herzog Chardonnay
The only white tasted is this tried-and-true California-based Chardonnay, which received an overall rating of 3.55 out of 5. The crowd was pretty happy with its fruitiness — notes of apple, pear, and vanilla were detected. This is a good wine well suited to salmon and cheeses, as well as veal and Cornish hen, so say the official tasting notes from the company. Start your seder off with this as your first cup before moving on to a bolder red.
Shilo Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
This bold red won the hearts of our tasters, scoring a 5 out of 5 almost across the board. Adam described it as “berry nose, cherry finish,” and Dina characterized it as “raspberry, cherry, smooth…a lot of flavor but still easy to drink.” The Shilo winery was established where wines were produced in Biblical times, and is Royal’s best-selling boutique winery. If you want to impress your seder guests, this is the one to buy. But it will put you back a bit. This most expensive bottle of the evening goes for $45.99 retail. (Note: The 2009 vintage is not mevushal.)
Domaine du Castel Petit Castel
Who couldn’t love a wine with the dreamy French name of “Petit Castel”? Our tasters thought it was great, noting its long finish and hints of toffee, pepper, oak, berry, apricots, and honey. Joshua found it “rich, multi-faceted, fruity, well-balanced, woody.” $48.99 and not mevushal. It should be noted that the tasters were not aware of prices during the tasting, and the merit of these pricier bottles is a reflection of the impression they made.
“The ‘It’s Not Complicated’”
“It’s not complicated” might be the status of this Binyamina (Israel) wine. It scored highly among our tasters, earning
a solid 3.85, with marks for fruitiness, smoothness, and non-complexity. Drink this with pasta, chicken or grilled beef. This is a good seder wine that won’t overpower your Hillel sandwich. And it’s a steal at $12.99.
Pacifica Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot
Washington-based Pacifica, the region’s first kosher wine — and a spectacular one at that — is out this year with a new blend. This Pacifica pales slightly in comparison to its Meritage predecessor (notoriously described by one taster two years ago as “like drinking brisket”) and scored 3s and 4s. Adam and Phillip tasted coffee, Ned and Zane picked up blackberry, and Joel surprised himself by enjoying it, despite his distaste for Cabernet and Merlot. Maybe two negatives create a positive. Pacifica’s grapes come from Walla Walla and the Yakima Valley, making this the locavore’s choice. Best paired with barbequed meats, pot roast, grilled chicken. $27.99.
“The Wine for Non-Wine Drinkers”
Joel described this fruity, effervescent red as “light and refreshing. Fun!” Zane suggests it as a good four-cups alternative, given its fruity lightness. Dan, who admitted he was not much of a wine drinker, also loved this one and marked it as “fun J”. For those seeking something a little more exciting than now-ubiquitous Jeunesse or headache-inducing Concord grape wines, try the Bartenura. The alcohol comes in at only 6 percent, too, lightweights. $14.99.
Ovadia Estates Chianti
“A chocolate-covered cherry!” praised Zane of this Italian wine. Chocolate and cherry flavors were picked up by others, and an average rating of 3.18 makes this a very good choice suitable for a variety of meals, from salads to meats. $14.99.
Ovadia Estates Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
The Ovadia Montepulciano is a bit of a wildcard, receiving ratings between one and five. Criticisms include that it fades too fast and is too light for a red. Dan Birk said that he was surprised by the lightness, making it a good wine for those who aren’t big on reds. Adam found it thin, with hints of raisin and tobacco. Call this the pipe smoke of wine. The official tasting notes point out anise, wild berries, vanilla and Mediterranean wood. I’m not sure what Mediterranean wood tastes like, but it should be good with grilled or roasted meat. $16.99.
Morad Danue Passion Fruit
“The Fruit Cocktail”
Fruit wines tend to be hit or miss, but always very, very sweet and only drinkable in thimblefuls. It will be interesting to see how this passionfruit wine fares. “Tastes like fruit cocktail syrup,” Barbara exclaimed, which I would say is accurate, but with a teaspoon of Dimetapp thrown in. Save this one for a hot day, and serve it over ice, or bring it out at the end of the seder for the champions who made it through Hallel, if they can stand to put another ounce of anything into their bodies.
Described as “sweet and pleasant,” “good for kiddush,” and coming in with a score of 3.4, the Claret proves that the Jewish affection for sweet wines is as lasting as the eternal light. Try this for a fancier, slightly drier version of the concord grape classics, i.e., the “bottom shelf” wines in your local kosher aisle.
Find an assortment of these wines and more at QFC University Village and Mercer Island, Albertson’s Mercer Island, Total Wine Tukwila, and through AffordableKosher.com.
L’chaim! Next year in Jerusalem!