The holiday season is upon us and that means Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa too. The upcoming Hanukkah festival of lights, which begins Dec. 2 this year, is typically not a drinking holiday. I write that as a Jewish level-2, certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a senior wine and spirits specialist at the new ABC Fine Wine and Spirits in North Miami Beach. Hanukkah is traditionally more for eating latkes with applesauce or sour cream and dreidel spinning for prizes. Nevertheless, this is one of a several times each year when more people ask me about kosher wine recommendations for exchanging gifts.
The first message I communicate to people is this: You don’t have to be Jewish or kosher to drink kosher wines. Even the greatest Bordeauxs such as Chateau Lafite produce a kosher version every vintage. All countries produce kosher wine which means each step of the winemaking process is under rabbinical supervision. Israel is considered by some to be the next Napa Valley. If you are Orthodox, kosher, or simply interested in savoring something new, I have a few great recommendations for kosher wines to drink or to give during the holiday season.
Kosher and mevushal
First, some basics: What makes any wine kosher is that the making process is overseen by Orthodox Jews and under Rabbinical supervision using only kosher ingredients and methods. Many wines use egg whites to “fine” or clarify wines. In these wines, obviously, those egg whites and all ingredients must be kosher. Mevushal is an old tradition, mostly for very strict religious Jews, where the wine was boiled or pasteurized so that a non-Jewish person could serve the wine to a Jewish person. It greatly altered the taste of the wine and tannins. Today, however, mevushal wines go through a flash pasteurization which serves the same purpose but doesn’t alter the taste of the wines as much.
Perfect pairings for latkes
It’s all about latkes fried in oil on Hanukkah. That means, crunchy and a little greasy. So, I like something to cleanse the palate. Rashi Joyvin red or white are kosher, semi-sweet wines from Italy and are mevushal. They are made with partially fermented grape must (skins, seeds), in a frizzante (fizzy) style. Both are fruity, semi-sweet and will get your palate cleansed for the next bite of latkes.
Red kosher wines for gifts or brisket
Teperberg Impressions Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a fifth-generation family that has been producing great wines in the lowlands of the Judean Hills, Israel. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged for 6 months in French and American oak, displaying nice black fruits, hints of mint, clove and vanilla Let’s just say it left a good “impression” on me.
Or Haganuz Marom Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a high-quality wine and the result of excellent ingredients. Haganuz wines are based on grapes from prominent vineyards. This is a solid cab at a solid price point.
I saved my favorite for last. Domaine Du Castel “Petit Castel” Meritage is another from the Judean Hills. This winery’s grand vin has been labeled by experts as “The Chateau Lafite of Israel.” This “Petit Castel” is their second label and has equal amounts of Merlot and Cab and some Petit Verdot. I would put this wine up against any, and I mean any, wine from Napa at 1/3 the price (under $50). This wine is sleek, elegant and balanced. The best of Israel!
All of these wines are strictly kosher, and I love them for anyone, any time of year. Happy Holidays to all!