One of the many memories I have of childhood Passover was graduating from grape juice to wine at the Seder. And I don’t recall that it was much of a jolt from a taste standpoint. Manischewitz, which tasted pretty much like grape juice, was the wine of choice at the host’s home that I went to, year after year. Later, Carmel wine came onto the scene. While the 50’s and 60’s left little choice for the person shopping for kosher wine for Passover, the world of kosher wine has since transformed. Not only are there countless kosher wines produced in the U.S., they are also imported from around the world with Israel of course being the top exporter.
What Makes a Wine Kosher?
For a wine to be kosher it must meet the following Jewish religious dietary laws:
- It must be made under a rabbi’s immediate supervision.
- The only people touching the grapes from the time of crushing through bottling must be Shabbath-observant Jewish men.
What Makes a Wine Kosher for Passover?
Fermentation is the process through which grape juice sugars are converted into alcohol. Wine production relies on yeast added either naturally or artificially to the grapes to speed up and control the fermentation process. While a wine can be kosher by virtue of meeting standards 1 and 2 above, there is a third criteria that must be met for Passover. The yeast used may not come from wheat, barley, oat, spell or rye, bread or dough . These are prohibited from use during Passover by Jewish law. Also kosher for Passover wines may not include several common preservatives, including potassium sorbate.
And Yet, Our Cup Runneth Over with Great Kosher for Passover Wines
Yossie Horwitz, has a weekly newsletter on Israeli and kosher wine, wineries and other “oenophilic goodies” and annually posts a Pesach Kosher Wine Buying Guide. He notes that his list of recommended wines takes into consideration which ones are “… a particularly good way to spend your hard-earned cash.” Bless his heart, he has broken down his recommendations by price range so he provides a very practical approach to purchasing. While his list includes wines from diverse wineries, tour guide extraordinaire Andy Hyman, wants to highlight those from Hagafen winery, a kosher winery in Napa Valley.
Yossie’s “Under $17.99 category”:
- Hagafen, Don Ernesto, Beret Rosé, 2014 [US]
- Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013/2014 [US]
Yossie’s “$18.00-$29.99 category”:
- Hagafen, Late Harvest, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008/2009 (I also liked the 2013/2014 Roussanne) [US]
- Hagafen, Riesling, Lake County, 2013 (US) (the Dry Riesling is well-worth buying in bulk)
Yossie’s “$18.00-$29.99 category”:
- Hagafen, Cuvee de Noirs, 2007 (the “late disgorged” version is also delightful)
- Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Pinot Noir, Combsville, 2012 [US]
Andy notes that at Hagafen the manner of serving wines to those visiting for tasting is different than at most other wineries. In contrast to most wineries which offer a set “flight” of four or five wines to the taster, at Hagafen tasters get to select from a menu of sweet wine only, white only or red only depending on their preferences.
Another Bay Area Kosher winery, Covenant, in Berkeley, CA also made Yossie’s list:
In Yossie’s “$18.00-$29.99 category”:
- Covenant, Lavan, Chardonnay, 2013 (the Red C Sauvignon Blanc is also always good)
- Covenant, Rosé, 2014
Hopefully, in the hubbub of preparing for Pesach, clarity about what qualifies as kosher for Passover and a solid list of tested and recommended wines will ease one element of the holiday. Have a good one; enjoy family, friends and the moments of moral reflection that Seders always bring. And fill up those four cups!