For the holiday dry, delicious and kosher Wines: Some of the better offerings are listed, just in time for Passover.

April 13, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

Have you ever heard the one about the gentile wine writer whose editor asked him to write a column reviewing kosher wines in time for Passover?

The columnist goes out and buys a bunch of kosher wines. The problem is, with many of the wines, the second he opens the bottle he realizes it's treyf -- no more kosher than a ham and shrimp sandwich with provolone.

So technically, this is not an article entirely about kosher wines. .. Rather, it's about kosher wines plus some wines that might have been kosher had they been tasted by an observant Jew.

This might sound strange to gentiles, and to Jews who have no idea what makes a wine kosher, but that's the law. (Don't just take my word. Ask a rabbi.)

To be kosher, wines must be handled by observant Jews through the entire winemaking process. And on the serving end, they must once again be handled only by observant Jews.

There are no exceptions on the winemaking end, but there is one on the serving end. If the wine has been boiled -- or pasteurized under the modern interpretation -- it can no longer be rendered un-kosher by the touch of the wrong person. Such wines will say "mevushal" somewhere on the label.

Mevushal wines have some obvious advantages: You can serve them at your daughter's wedding without worrying about whether the caterer's waiters are all observant Jews. And you won't have to worry about inviting Uncle Morty to your Seder, even though he hasn't been to synagogue since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

There is one disadvantage to mevushal wines. Boiling wine doesn't do its quality any favors.

This didn't matter so much when kosher meant a sticky-sweet wine such as Manischewitz Cream Concord, but for today's new breed of dry, mainstream-style kosher table wines, it's a definite problem. That doesn't mean there aren't some good mevushal wines, but they would likely be better if they had not been pasteurized.

So it's a trade-off. If you're only selectively observant or know that everybody at the table keeps kosher, you will likely be most happy with a wine that is not mevushal.

The good news is that there are more well-made dry kosher wines than ever before. Some come from California, some from Israel and others from Europe. They are made in virtually every style available to drinkers of nonkosher.

One caveat: Distribution of current vintages is a big problem with kosher wine. Many of those on retail shelves have simply been there too long. Be suspicious of vintage kosher wines that are older than comparable nonkosher wines.

These are some of the better kosher wines I've found in my tastings:

1992 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, Galil ($19). Yarden, on the Israeli-held Golan Heights, is as fine a producer of kosher wines as you can find. This cabernet sauvignon, which like most Yarden wines is not mevushal, is comparable to the finest nonkosher cabernets in its price class. It offers classy, intense, concentrated flavors of black cherry and chocolate.

1994 and 1995 Baron Herzog California Cabernet Sauvignon ($12). Both are fruity, impressively structured red wines that offer generous black cherry fruit and show no apparent loss of flavor from the pasteurization process. The Baron's cabernets are excellent values for those of any faith.

1995 Gan Eden Gewurztraminer, Monterey County ($12). This lively, spicy, nonmevushal white wine from one of California's finest kosher producers is lightly sweet, but not so much that it won't go well with food. It could be a bridgebetween family members who enjoy dry wines and those who have always depended on Manischewitz and Mogen David.

1992 Rashi Prumasco Barbera Piemonte ($11). This Joseph Zuker selection from Italy is a lively red wine with more flavor than its pale color suggests. It offers the traditional meaty flavors of barbera in a lighter, more Beaujolais-style package. It is mevushal.

1994 Gan Eden Pinot Noir, Napa Valley ($9). Not your classic Burgundian pinot noir, this red wine nevertheless is chunky and lively with loads of strawberry, cherry and plummy fruit. It's not complex or elegant, but it would probably go down very smoothly with roast chicken. Nonmevushal.

1995 Fortant de France Merlot, Vin de Pays d'Oc ($9.75). This is the kosher version of a popular brand-name wine from the South of France. It is mevushal, and more expensive than the nonkosher version, but the quality seems close to that of the medium-bodied, well-made regular merlot. Don't expect tremendous complexity.

1995 Baron Herzog California Chardonnay ($12). A polite, middle-of-the-road chardonnay with no obvious flaws. Mevushal.

There are also a few kosher sparkling wines on the market, though none of the ones I've tasted recently would make me forget Champagne. Yarden Brut from the Galil region is a respectable bubbly, though expensive at $19. Korbel, the well-known California sparkling wine company, produces a kosher brut version for about $13 that is adequate but unexciting -- just like the regular brut wine.

More successful than either is the Bartenura Asti ($13) from Italy. It's a lightly sweet, flowery, uncomplicated sparkling wine in the Asti Spumante tradition.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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