We buy all our wine there! What more can we say?
Kosher wines have come a long way in short time
BY JOE IURATO
Admittedly, the closest I've come to celebrating Hanukkah is watching Adam Sandler in "Eight Crazy Nights." I am a Christmas-observing Catholic, one who's never experienced the Festival of Lights in his home, but I'm also a wine enthusiast. And wine, like love, is a beautiful language that knows no boundaries. It doesn't discriminate or separate. Wine brings people together. For as long as I've been interested in fermented grape juice, my knowledge of culture and geography has expanded and my eyes have been opened to worlds I may not have otherwise known. Now, with Hanukkah beginning Tuesday night, I'm on a mission to learn about kosher wines.
Where do I go to learn about the world of kosher wines without simply perusing the Web for morsels of most likely false information? One of the top stores in the country for kosher wines is located in Teaneck — Queen Anne Wine and Spirit Emporium. While the kosher wines selection in most wine shops is limited, Queen Anne offers an estimated 600-plus bottles to choose from. I talked with Kevin Roche, the store's owner and co-founder of WineMaster's — an association of retailers who are also sommeliers. It turned out to be an hour of enlightenment.
"Let me begin here," Roche says. "The confusion people have is that they think they have to pay more for a kosher wine that's inferior to other wines at the same cost. For a long time this may have been true, but over the past five to eight years especially, Israeli wineries have seen a shift. Kosher wineries like Shiloh and Segal's have been setting a very high bar for outstanding wines offered at competitive price points. Now everyone else is rising up to meet that bar."
The higher prices that have long been associated with Israeli kosher wines are a case of supply and demand more than anything else, according to Roche. "The kosher wine world is a finite world. It's expanding, but it will never become mainstream," he says. "Production vs. demand has always been the dilemma. Kosher wineries make up only a tiny sliver of the wine world, and for the Sabbath-observant it's their only option. How much wine can Israel turn out? They just can't produce enough juice alone."
Now other countries are also beginning to produce world-class kosher wines — Spain, New Zealand and the United States, to name a few — Roche explains. With supply beginning to meet demand, "we're seeing some really good wine being offered at great prices," he says with a smile.
And what exactly is it that makes a wine kosher?
"Rabbinical supervision is the most important factor," Roche says. "From the vine to the bottle, only Sabbath-observing people can have a hand in making it." There are also other factors involved, such as how the winemaker filters the wine and the use of flash pasteurization.
I can't leave without finding a few bottles to sample. So I let the expert lead me into the aisle for wines that'll fare well with Hanukkah's traditional brisket and potato latkes. There's no hesitation as he selects two wines by Israeli producer Segal's, and two others from New Zealand and Spain. "These are good examples of what's going on in the kosher wine world," Roche says as he hands them over. And I can't get home fast enough to find out.
Joe Iurato is a certified sommelier, wine consultant and lecturer, and a working fine artist. For questions and comments, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The kosher wines below can be found at Queen Anne Wine and Spirit Emporium, at 247 Degraw Ave. in Teaneck, 201-692-1555. Owner Kevin Roche has marked these wines down 20 percent as a courtesy to Record readers. The sale prices are reflected below.
2010 Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, South Island, New Zealand
Goose Bay exhibits a pale straw color and intense aromas of grapefruit, lime zest and grass. It's a classic good New Zealand sauvignon blanc through and through. Right on down to its vibrant, clean, citrusy fruit on the palate, surrounded by food warranting acidity.
Pair it with: Chilled seafood, salads with lemon vinaigrette, soft cheeses, grilled vegetables
How much: $16.99
2009 Segal's Chardonnay "Special Reserve," Galilee Heights, Israel
I could easily put this in a blind tasting alongside notable California chardonnay producers, and I'm sure it would do quite well. Stylistically, it has California written all over it. It's a rich and creamy full-bodied wine, brimming with pineapple and banana, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch and toasty oak. Nicely balanced acidity and mineral notes carry on through a lasting warm finish.
Pair it with: Potato latkes! It's usually recommended that a lighter, acidic white or a sparkling wine goes well with these potato pancakes, but I'm going against the grain. The weight of the potatoes and olive oil needs a wine with substance, and the creamy texture of this chardonnay will do the trick.
How much: $13.99
2009 Elvi Wines X Bodegas Castillo De Sajazarra, "Mati," Rioja, Spain
100 percent tempranillo, this medium-bodied red shows cherry, licorice and hints of cocoa and tobacco. It's a young Rioja that's fruit-forward and easy-drinking, with a finish that repeats fresh cherries.
Pair it with: roast chicken, burgers, semi-soft cheeses
How much: $15.99
2007 Segal's Cabernet Sauvignon "Special Reserve," Galilee Heights, Israel
A medium- to full-bodied cab with notes of blackberry, cherry, chocolate and anise. Very faint undertones of leather and smoke appear on the finish and linger alongside smooth tannins. It's easily approachable now, but you could also lay it down for a few years.
Pair it with: This one's for the brisket!
How much: $16.99