Wine and spirits for Passover

Quevedo portAll Jewish holidays, outside of fast days, entail big, festive meals. Passover is, in many respects, the ultimate example of this, despite having a more restricted diet. Not only must we eat matzah and maror at the seder meals, but we must eat matzah and refrain from all chametz (leavened grain products) throughout the holiday. Further, not only must each of us consume four cups of wine at each seder, which, depending on the number of guests, can make for a lot of bottles, but we are encouraged to keep the wine flowing as an expression of our freedom and joy. Besides, with our adult beverage options severely limited by type, with all grained-based spirits and beer unequivocally off limits, the importance of having enough wine on hand takes on yet another level of importance. So drink up (in moderation, of course).

Nearly all kosher wine is also kosher for Passover, but should you have any doubts look at the kashrus certification on the back or front label. You’ll find either a “P” near the kashrus symbol, or a declarative “Kosher for Passover” printed in English or Hebrew or both.

As most every kosher wine consumer knows—even if this is the first time you’ve seen our column—there are hundreds of kosher wine options available today. So deciding what to choose, or even how to choose, may seem daunting to some. So many choices, so little time…alas, we feel your pain.

Indeed, our empathy, you’ll not be surprised to learn, led instantly to a wine recommendation. One of our favorite Israeli boutique wineries is the Tulip Winery in Kfar Tikva, near Kiryat Tivon in the north of Israel. Recommending their wines is easy not only because they are good, but because the Tulip Winery is doing good too.

Roy Yitzhaki, Tulip’s owner, has a robust moral vision that is actually an essential part of the winery. He employs a contingent of workers from Kfar Tikvah, a unique community that is home to 200 emotionally and developmentally disabled adults aged 20 to 74. When Tulip first decided to go kosher, however, their community work with the residents of Kfar Tikvah raised some rabbinic concerns.

Non-religious employees always pose a certain basic level of concern in any kosher winery. It’s nothing insurmountable if the desire to go kosher is strong enough, but it certainly requires training, policies and protocols and often newer winery technology to better control human contact with the grape juice and the wine. The additional “special needs” dimension required additional attention and sensitivity to developing the most appropriate and workable kashrus supervision arrangements and understandings.

Most of the kashrus agencies Yitzhaki initially approached failed to figure out how to make it all work out. Rather than shift in any way on his commitment to the residents of Kfar Tikvah, Yitzhaki said he’d rather be closed out of the kosher market. To be clear, going kosher is a real necessity for commercial growth in the Israeli wine industry.

Around 94 percent of the Israeli wine trade is dominated by the 10 largest producers, all kosher. The next 10 largest are also all kosher. Indeed, to not be kosher certified is to be denied access to Israeli supermarkets, most Israeli hotels and caterers, and export is extremely limited—the demand for non-kosher wine from the Jewish state is, shall we say, not economically all that significant. The decision to not go kosher is a decision to remain a relatively small wine producer.

Fortunately for all concerned, the U.S.-based OK Kosher Certification group developed a workable approach – one which involved some shifting of employee roles, and, most dramatic, a separation of the winery’s visitor center from the winery itself. In this way, Tulip became kosher certified starting with the 2010 vintage without its having to sacrifice anything. The separation of the visitor center from the winery production area also enables the center, one of Yitzhaki’s stipulations, to continue to stay open on Shabbos to sell wines and offer tastings.

Tulip Syrah Reserve 2010 ($40): a big, full-bodied red with red cherry and cedar aromas along with loads of bright, peppery, spicy-sweet raspberry and blueberry flavors. It is an ideal accompaniment to the leftover brisket.

Spirits-wise, as promised, we continue with kosher for Passover options. Since fruit based spirits is the largest category, and so offers more options than simply another kosher for Passover certified vodka, we thought we’d explore some fortified wine and cognac options.

Tio Pepe Fino Sherry (15% abv; $24; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification): is a bone-dry fortified wine, offering a pleasing mix of flavors including almonds, walnuts, fruits, fresh olive oil, salty crackers and Granny Smith apples. With a lovely long and smooth finish that is dry, refreshing, a little tangy, and a tad herbaceous. Not for all tastes, but an excellent and pleasurable; should be drunk young and well chilled.

Porto Cordovero, Fine Ruby Port (20% abv; $35): Dark garnet in color, looking not unlike a deep dark Manischewitz, with overripe, almost stewed though pleasant aromas, fading tannins and some balancing acidity, with notes of prunes, dark fruit compote and lovely vanilla followed by a generous cinnamon- and nutmeg-accented finish. Showing its age a little, but still pleasant.

Quevedo Ruby Port (19.5% abv; $24; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification): This vibrant, fresh, very fruity Ruby Port offers great balance between acidity and fruit, with jammy flavors of blackcurrant, cherry, raspberry, and also vanilla and mocha, with lovely aromatics of flowers, blueberry and hazelnut. Gets better as it breathes. Full bodied, full flavored and easily the best quality, and best value, kosher Ruby Port.

Louis Royer Cognac V.S. (40% abv; $60; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification): With lovely notes of oak, cinnamon, some faint herbal notes, and a little bracing heat. Pleasant and workmanlike.

Louis Royer V.S.O.P. (40%; $75; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification): Pleasing notes of marzipan, caramel, orange marmalade, and figs with a soft, dry-yet-fruity body, and additional notes of chocolate, baking spice and fruit tart on the finish.

Dupuy XO Cognac(XX% abv; $85; comes in a non-kosher version too, so make sure to check for the kosher certification): This smooth and aromatic cognac spent over a dozen years maturing in Limousin French oak casks and showcases generous notes of vanilla and cinnamon, with a good and balanced mid-palate offering dried fruits and additional notes of walnuts, dates and almonds, all leading up to an enjoyable and involved if slightly clipped finish. L’Chaim!