The Passover seder is one of the most traditional meals of the year and one of the only Jewish celebrations where wine plays an integral role; guests are expected to drink four glasses throughout the evening. If everyone is going to consume the equivalent of a bottle each, it’s worth seeking out some decent juice (because let’s face it, Manischewitz isn’t going to cut it). Israel tends to be top of mind, but kosher wine is a unique, quality niche in many countries.
What makes a wine kosher? Techniques remain the same as in traditional winemaking, but the entire process, from vineyard to winery, is handled by a rabbi, ensuring the rigorous kosher laws are strictly enforced.
Kosher wines don’t necessarily need to come from kosher wineries; Backsberg Estate Cellars, in South Africa, produces a range of both kosher and non-kosher wine at their facility in Paarl. The kosher equipment is housed in a separate area within the estate and production is overseen by a local rabbi. Because kosher wine can be made anywhere, it’s possible for drinkers to find a bottle from a favorite region or in a style they would normally crack open on a Saturday night.
This boutique production at an existing winery can have unexpected results for the domaine. In 1995 Celler de Capcanes, located in the Monstant region of Spain, was in disrepair. Originally a purveyor of cheap bulk wines, they couldn’t keep up with the new, modern facilities being built around them. Ultimately, they stopped making wine and simply sold off their grapes to other winemakers. Opportunity arose when the Jewish community of Barcelona approached them with an interesting request: produce a kosher wine for the local population. The results were astounding and the winery received multiple accolades. Slowly, the investment in techniques and training for the kosher wines brought about new, high-end varieties and today, Capcanes is a highly regarded producer of both kosher and non-kosher wines.
Although kosher wines are rooted in tradition, a young generation of winemakers are taking inspiration from newer wine regions’ renegade spirit and bringing modern ideas into the glass. Shirah and Twin Suns winemaking duo (and brothers) Shimon and Gabriel Weiss focus on high-quality “varietals, blends and styles that are not yet well known to the kosher wine drinker” at their eight-year-old California winery. They work with vineyards from places such as Santa Barbara County (of Sideways fame), an area emerging from under Napa’s shadow and receiving recognition as a world-class wine region.
Ready to explore? Here are some great selections to pour this seder:
Paarl, South Africa, NV
This elegant sparkling wine pairs perfectly with every course of the seder. Notes of apricot, pear, and brioche dance along with the lively bubbles.
Citrus fruits, peach and kiwi make for a delicious, compulsively drinkable white. This is the only kosher Gavi made. Side note: this estate also makes a delectable rose.
Paso Robles, CA
From the Shirah brothers, in partnership with The River importers, comes this ripe, smoky zinfandel. Raspberries and blueberries meet the burning embers of a fireplace.
Image credit: Royal WIne Group
This wine comes from the famed Baron de Rothschild clan (the ones who own Chateau Lafite, for all you Bordeaux fans out there). This Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend in particular displays deep, ripe berries, plum and elegant notes of spice. Balanced tannins and moderate acidity make this a well-rounded wine and a pleasure to drink year round. SRP: $29.99
Photo credit: Royal Wine Corp
Round and plush, this juicy wine shows notes of raspberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, along with beautiful spice notes.