There are people who love wine. And there are people who love wine. Not 10 years ago, the people whose tastes hew toward the enocentric would have looked at a kosher wine — likely with a rectangular-shaped bottle — and laughed all the way to their cellars.
Every year, when we taste wines in anticipation of Passover, we remark how the wines are generally quite good and for the most part comparable to any decent bottle of wine you’d find at your local grocery or wine store.
As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, kosher wines are not just comparable to your average bottle. They are, oftentimes, better.
For our tasting this year, a small group of us tasted nine wines supplied by Michael Friend, regional distributor for Royal Wine Corp., all of them kosher, most of them mevushal, meaning that the wines have been flash boiled for about two seconds to allow anyone, whether an observant Jew or not, to serve the wine at a catered meal. And, with the possible exception of one or two, they were excellent.
Most wines, incidentally, are available at Albertson’s on Mercer Island or the QFC at University Village, though most stores would be willing to do special orders. Prices listed are suggested retail. Depending upon where you go, they may be a bit more or a bit less.
Our tasters in our eighth annual event were a mix of new and veteran:
Karen Chachkes, JTNews publisher and wine enthusiast
Joel Magalnick, JTNews editor (need more be said about journalists and alcohol?)
Dan Mayer, JTNews board member and wine enthusiast
Michael Natkin, aspiring chef and writer of local food blog herbivoracious.com
David Schor, wine enthusiast
Ned Porges, professor emeritus of wine and spirits at Washington State University and Highline College. Ned, prior to the first pouring, gave us a lesson in appellations, estates and growing regions of France and Italy.
We began with the whites.
Our first, Segal’s Chardonnay/Columbard Fusion from Israel ($13.99), is mevushal and started out with mixed reviews.
“The first thing I got was apples,” Karen said. “I got butter, actually, on the palate. Seems like a brunch wine.”
Dave liked the nose, but after that, particularly for a Chardonnay, “it came across as too buttery,” he said.
“I thought there was a lot of oak and not a lot of fruit,” Michael N. said, calling it crispy and acidic.
“It wasn’t a very interesting wine,” said Dan, noting the butter, but with a smoother second note. “Didn’t have a range that I’d be looking for.”
Ned liked this wine’s smoothness, with tastes of retsina and licorice.
Michael F. called it crisp, light, and easy to drink. “Not so serious, more fun and good with appetizers, probably,” he said.
Next was a 2007 Herzog Special Reserve Chardonnay Russian River (California, $34.99), also mevushal. This is available exclusively at the Costco on 4th Ave. S in Seattle.
Michael F. called it grassy, with a long, oaky finish and a medium body.
“I liked that a lot more” than the Segal’s, Michael N. said. “That one was a lot better balanced. Flavors played off each other.”
“I did get the stronger flavor immediately,” Ned said. “Lots of tannins, long finish.”
Dave thought the dark color was perfect for a Chardonnay, but he found the taste a bit too oaky and with too much vanilla.
“There’s a good vegetative flavor going on,” he noted however, and, like me, found hints of honeydew.
“The nose — it smelled like toast,” Karen said. “I liked the butteriness in this one. It’s what I lean toward in Chardonnay.”
Our last white was Barkan Sauvignon Blanc, also from Israel ($11.99), made with grapes from the Galil in Northern Israel. It’s mevushal as well.
Dan liked the wide range of fruit, calling it light and smooth.
“I liked this wine. I was surprised,” he said. “The real range of taste was there, offered what I wanted in a Sauvignon Blanc: Light, but there was some taste there. I was pleasantly happy.”
“I thought I caught a little bit of apples and pears in the nose,” Dave said, calling it delightful. “It felt like a day at the seashore, like a summer breeze coming in from the ocean.”
“A little fruit flavor in it, buttery,” said Ned, who found a short finish: “Zim-zam-dam.”
Michael N. found it tingly, crisp, balanced, and with a taste of mango.
“I thought it was pleasant,” he said.
And now the reds:
As we got started on the reds, our host Michael noted something about the commonly purchased Manischewitz: That this fortified kosher wine is not kosher for Passover year-round.
“All year long they put in a sweetener, and the sweetener is not kosher for Passover,” he said.
“But what is Passover without Manischewitz?” Ned asked.
“All the wines we’re drinking here!” I responded.
We started with a label unfamiliar to us all: Binyamina Yogev Cabernet/Merlot (Israel, $13.99). That said, we did find the label, with an image of a worker carrying a bushel of grapes, impressive. The non-mevushal wine was not universally so.
“I like the bottle more than the wine,” said Dan. “Not much nose to it. Kind of a Merlot taste and a Cabernet afterglow.
“I got hints of cassis in the flavor. It somehow reminded me of being in a clay studio,” Dave said.
“Yeah, I got earth,” Karen responded. She called it a one-note wine, and quite tannic.
Michael F., also finding it too tannic, noted a “barnyard taste.”
“There’s a lot of smoke to it,” Ned said. “It was smooth and it did linger. It also did have a bite. I thought I got a little cherry on the nose, but none on the palate.”
Next we tried Segal’s Special Reserve Merlot (Israel, $14.99). Though its closest availability is an Albertson’s in Portland, this wine produced in Israel’s Galil may be worth the drive, especially considering the price. It is mevushal.
Ned found the Segal’s robust with a good finish. “Mmm… This is a Merlot,” he said. “I thought it was earthy, really full-bodied, nice glow.”
Dave tasted currants, raisins, and commented on what he called the perfect ruby red color.
“I thought it was the right note,” he said. “I thought it was really spicy, and [would] go well with that Passover roast.”
Dan called it “a good Merlot. I think of the characteristics I would find in a Merlot and it had those.” Specifically, he liked the well-blended variety of tastes and the nice fruit nose.
“I liked this more than a regular Merlot,” Karen said, noting its syrupy nose, peppery flavor, and long finish. “I thought it was going to be smoother than it was. I liked it.”
One person’s syrupy is another’s distaste, however. Michael N. thought this wine was pretty acidic, and he noted “something a little funky on the nose.”
But Michael F. really enjoyed this one. “I detected a fruit in the nose, then chocolate,” he said.
From Spain, we tried Elvi Wines Classico ($12.49), made from 88 percent tempranillo grapes, 12 percent merlot. It is not mevushal.
Michael N. tasted olives and blackberry with what he called a very straightforward wine. “Not a very complex wine,” he said, “but I could eat it with a lot of foods.”
“I’d serve it with cheese,” added Dave. “Fat, cheese — it would cut through that.”
He added his appreciation for the “deep dark black cherry color,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was complex, but I got a lot of different flavors: Roasted peppers, licorice.”
“Spicy, woody and herbal,” Karen said.
Ned found it to be tart, spicy and astringent, with a lingering afterglow.
We have tried Goose Bay’s wines before, most notably their chardonnay. This year we got a taste of the Goose Bay Pinot Noir, a mevushal wine (New Zealand, $23.99)
“I like that a lot,” Michael N. said. “Every time I tasted it I came back to the same thing: Sesame oil.”
“Spicy and maybe a little honey,” Ned said.
Dave liked the flavors, but found it a bit too light, perhaps diluted even.
“It didn’t stay with me very much,” Dan said, finding this more acidic and oaky for his tastes. “A first taste, and that’s it.”
Karen wasn’t so impressed. “Sweet. Just boom,” she said. “Sweet’s what I got and that kind of stopped it.”
Baron Rothschild Malbec ($24.99) is our one taste of what our host Michael said was the hot grape these days. Grown and produced in Argentina, on alluvial flood plains, he said it’s the only kosher Malbec on the market.
“It was strong, long finish, full body,” Ned said. It wasn’t a favorite for him.
But Karen marked this as her favorite. “Smoky nose,” she said. “Just a very yummy fragrance. I loved this.”
Dave tasted a little bit of tobacco, and the burnt ends of a roast with this one. “Yum!” he noted. “Excellent cassis/currant…. Almost like a sweat lodge.”
Dan found it to have the most acidic aftertaste of everything we tried — not that that’s a bad thing. He really liked it. “I thought this would go really well with a roast,” he said.
Michael N. found it to be young, aggressive and brash — but likeable. “This is the image I get of a teenager,” he said. “Still going.”
We finished the night with a bang. When the producers of Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (California, $42.99, mevushal) caught wind of our tasting, they FedExed a bottle straight to Michael for us to try. The 2007 vintage, the one we tried, received a 92 rating from Wine Enthusiast and was “being bottled as we speak,” he told us. It’s got a great nose, he noted. “I could smell it all day long.”
Ned really enjoyed this one. “It had a sweet taste despite the dryness,” he said.
“Pretty strong at the beginning. I tasted cumin,” Karen said, noting she’d like to grill a big steak with it.
“It gave a range of tastes — that rainbow — but in a very enjoyable way,” Dan said. He found it grassy and not very acidic, with a nice finish.
Michael N. found this to be balanced and distinct. “Much more distinct fruit — a lot going on,” he said. “Blackbery, stone fruit, vanilla.”
Dave found this complex, a mix of berries, peppers and raisins, with a lingering finish. It stood as one of his favorites.
As for me? It knocked my socks off.