L'chaim! Israeli wines for Passover
March 22nd, 2013
03:30 PM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

If there’s one kind of wine in the whole world of wine that’s misunderstood, it’s probably kosher wine. The basic misnomer is that it is somehow different - that the process of making kosher wine differs in some radical way from the process of making regular, un-kosher wine. This idea, mostly, isn’t true.

The short version is this: Grapes are kosher, and there’s nothing about the nature of the winemaking process that makes them not so. What matters is more the who than the how.

For a wine to be kosher, only Sabbath-observant Jews can handle it from the time the grapes are picked until the wine is in the bottle; various rabbinic organizations will certify wineries to make sure this is the case. The grapes can be anything from Aglianico to Zibibbo; you can soak the juice with oak chips or not; make it fizzy or still; you could even label it as "Stan the Man’s Supercharged Brain Juice" and that wouldn’t matter - though it might affect your sales somewhat. As long as it meets the requirements for who has been involved in making it, you’re in the clear. (Note: Wines designated mevushal have been heated to 180 degrees, usually by flash pasteurization, which means they can be poured by non-kosher staff in kosher restaurants to Orthodox Jews.)

Kosher for Passover is slightly more complicated, but rather than get into the rules, the easiest approach is simply to turn the bottle around. If the back label has a hechsher - a printed certification marking; in the U.S., it's usually the OU of the Orthodox Union - with a P next to it, that signals that it’s OK for Passover; ditto the phrase “kosher for Passover,” which often appears as well.

Which brings us to Israeli wines. Though people don’t realize it, there’s a robust wine industry in Israel, making both kosher and non-kosher wines (that said, more than 90 percent of the Israeli wine that comes to the US is kosher, as there’s effectively no market here for non-kosher Israeli wine).

The place, like many other Mediterranean countries, has some terrific vineyard land, particularly in the Judean Hills and Galilee. The most widely planted grapes aren’t exactly unfamiliar, either: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

So here’s the deal. The following kosher reds - all from Israel, and all good - would be great for Passover. But they’d be equally good for Easter, or Mother’s Day, or even any random weekday dinner with a roast chicken and a salad too. It’s something to think about.

2012 Segal’s Fusion ($15)
A Merlot-based blend from the Judean Hills, this red is medium-bodied, with bright berry notes; an excellent value.

2010 Binyamina Yogev Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot ($15)
The word yogev means “tiller of the soil,” an homage in this case to the vineyard workers who grew the grapes for it. Robust and black-fruited, it would be great with Passover brisket (or a hamburger...your call).

2008 Yarden Merlot ($26)
This Merlot’s luscious red fruit has enough structure to give it surprising elegance and finesse; it comes from vineyards in the Golan Heights.

2007 Barkan Cabernet Reserve Altitude +624 ($48)
From vineyards 624 meters above sea level, this graceful Cabernet has ripe black cherry flavors with a hint of appealingly sweet oak.

2010 Flam Reserve Syrah ($50)
Tasting this, one might easily be fooled into thinking it was a Rhône Valley Syrah. It’s dark and peppery; a powerfully structured red with intense blackberry and spice notes.

More from Food & Wine:

Best March Madness Chicken Wings

Best New Places to Drink Wine

Best Passover Recipes Ever

Amazing Passover Desserts

Lent Recipes

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Filed under: Content Partner • Food and Wine • Holidays • Passover • Sip • Wine

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. oneSTARman

    I make my own wine
    I am not Jewish; but it would really NOT be that difficult to make wine in standard Beer-making 5 Gallon Carboys
    Age it in 5 Gallon (or any other size) Wine Barrels available online
    and be able (If I were an Observant Male Jew) make enough Kosher Wine
    of whatever kind I wanted – In my Basement – for all my Jewish Friends who wanted Seder wine.

    March 25, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  2. Hannah

    I don't drink kosher wine. It has to be made by a male Jew. That's employment discrimination against women as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty of Israeli non-kosher wines for those who are culturally Jewish, but deplore the sexism in religion.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  3. rad666

    Funny how there is a meal to celebrate the passover of God's Angel of Death that killed the first born male of non-believers.

    I bet parents don't teach their kids that fact.

    March 25, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • sockpuppet1984

      quit trolling, idi0t

      March 25, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • mlv

      no it is not a celebration of the deaths of the first-born children. it is a celebration of the deliverance of the jews from slavery in egypt.

      March 27, 2013 at 2:42 am |
  4. Truth™

    Kosher wine is all about how they killed the pig...


    March 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
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