Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: An eye-opening look at kosher wines
As every wine lover knows, winemaking involves many areas of expertise: choosing the site, selecting grape varieties, caring for the vines, when to pick the grapes, vinifying, deciding how much time they spend in barrels or stainless steel, blending, bottling, corks vs. caps, and on and on. Many things happen before the wine leaves the cellar.
If, in addition, your enterprise is the making of kosher wines, there is a whole other level of expertise that needs to be woven into the process.
Modern winemaking in Israel took off in the late 1800s not least due to Baron Rothschild’s financial grant for planting vineyards as part of Israel’s agricultural resettlement program. There are now several distinct wine regions in Israel, the most important of which is Samaria, where Mount Carmel is located.
Recent years have seen higher-quality wine being exported. And this despite the fact that the making of kosher wine is not easy. In order for a wine to be declared kosher, some stringent requirements that must be met:
First, the vines from which the grapes are picked must be at least 4 years old before the first harvesting for winemaking. Secondly, the land of the vineyard must be allowed to lie fallow every 7 years if it is situated in the traditional biblical lands. Thirdly, the vines may not share their space with any other type of plantings. Lastly, and most complex, from the time of the grape picking to the to the arrival at the winery the grapes must be handled only by Sabbath-observant Jews; once in the winery all the equipment used in the winemaking, aging and bottling process must consist of kosher materials.
There are kosher wines made outside of Israel of course, in France, South Africa and elsewhere, and in these countries the fourth of these rules is strictly observed. In addition, if the wine is to be used for Passover it must not have any contact with any bread or dough, leavened or unleavened.
Now, given the complexity of the process, it should not be surprising to you that for many years there has been a relative paucity of kosher wines available here in the Northeast. That however, is beginning to change. The New Hampshire State Liquor Store has begun stocking a substantial variety of kosher wines, several of which we will look at today:
Goose Bay 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, South Island, 13.0% abv, $18.99. Pale lemon in color with the characteristic gooseberry aroma that we have come to know and love from New Zealand, the country that has set the world’s standard for Sauvignon Blanc, along with some crisp citrus notes. The palate is dry, with medium acidity and flavor intensity, good balance of components, and flavors of gooseberry, citrus and rich and deep grassiness that gives this lighter-bodied wine some real depth right along to the finish. 88 points.
Mount Tabor 2012 Chardonnay, Galilee, Israel, 14.5% abv, $16.99. A change of pace now, and back into classic Chardonnay territory. Pale gold in the glass, with a light nose of lemon peel. The Mount Tabor has a bit more acidity than is typical for Chardonnay (not a bad thing at all, given Chardonnay’s tendency toward flabbiness). The alcohol is well-integrated, the body is medium, and the flavors stay in the citrus range with lemon and perhaps just a hint of tropical fruit. Pleasing finish. 85 points.
Bartenura 2013 Moscato, Provincia di Pavia, Italy IGT, 5% abv, $15.99. Now we make a leap halfway across the Mediterranean and from still wine to bubbles — loads of bubbles, as a matter of fact, pleasing to the nose, with a rich grapey aroma and, believe it or not, just the slightest hint of tobacco (don’t ask me how, but it’s intriguingly there). Medium sweet, with very good acidity, low alcohol at only 5%, and flavors of grape, green apple, and pear. 87 points.
Bartenura 2010 Chianti DOCG, Italy, 14%abv, $13.99. Same maker as the Moscato, but from a different part of the boot, in this case Tuscany. We go from light to dark now, a rich deep purple, which lightens to a ruby hue in the rim. The nose is clean and of medium intensity with aromas of dried fruit, some stewed fruit. That isn’t a typical Chianti profile, but the classic sour cherry and the dustiness of the Tuscan soil come straight through on the palate, while continuing to carry along some dried fruit flavors. A varied palate, with medium body, medium-minus acidity, medium flavor intensity and a fairly light finish. A food wine, rather than one for sipping on its own. 84 points.
Segal’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Galilee Heights, Israel $20.99, 13.5%abv. To finish for today, back across the Mediterranean to its far eastern shores. Medium purple in color, with a lighter rim. The nose of medium intensity, predominantly herbal with some black cherry, medicinal aromas and an herbal background not unlike many South American Cabs available here. It is the herbal profile that comes through strongly on the palate, which is remarkable for its high tannin, robust and drying. The flavor profile is herbaceous and herbal with some all of notes in the background as well. Medium body, medium flavor intensity, medium-length finish. 83 points.
If you’re intrigued, as I was, you can find a full listing of all the kosher wines available at the state stores at www.liquorandwineoutlets.com/wine/kosher.
And a special note of thanks to EJ Powers for bringing these to my, and your, attention.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.