If a bunch of kosher-keeping people who enjoy wine get together, and they’re asked what they plan to drink at their Pesach Seder—arguably kosher wine’s biggest night of the year—it’s amazing what a wide response we get. I asked my tasting group this question for our Pesach wine tasting and got a variety of surprising answers. We limited our quest to only red wines this time around, with the idea of identifying good options that we will serve specifically at our own Sedarim.
I learned from my fellow oenophiles that there is differentiation in what my tasters seek out from each cup. “There’s a difference between the first cup recommendation versus the one to sit with during the meal,” said Yeruchum. A younger table wine made from reliable regional grapes (a vin de pays, or a rustic country wine) might be easier going down initially than something heavy like a well-aged blend or a singular intense grape like 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. The first two cups of wine, consumed on an essentially empty stomach, should likely not be too acidic.
Also, people hosting over 20 people, for example, have different cost concerns than those hosting or attending a smaller Seder, pointed out Daphna. Those celebrating the chag in Israel may have more or fewer options in terms of their choices as well. Still others attending a Seder as a guest and want to bring a bottle as a gift, might have a specific price-point in mind. Sometimes $10 or $15 seems “too cheap” if one is bringing wine to a Seder.
While quaffability (easy to drink) seemed paramount for the first and second cups, price was an issue we spent quite some time debating. It has always been my sense that people are willing to spend a little more for the right wine for a Pesach Seder, since almost everyone will make an effort to drink at least a little wine before switching to grape juice as necessary; so I’d assume one would be willing to spend a little more to “make sure it’s good.” But of course, then we learned that not everyone subscribes to this view either.
First- and Second-Cup Recommendations
For the first cup, there was almost universal interest in serving light, fruit forward wines; we were all sort of thinking along the same lines of new world, pinot noir-styled, young Israeli wines with a thin viscosity; something light enough to be able to drink easily on an empty stomach.
Nadiv Reshit 2017, running around $24.00 and non-mevushal, is an Israeli, Australian-style Bordeaux blend that really fits that new world perspective. The fruit-forward, smooth wine with notes of cherry and blackberry has only the smallest sense of alcohol on the finish. Reshit is made from 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot and 10 percent syrah. This wine is a really great value and I don’t think we had a bigger crowd pleaser at our tasting than this. It was universally liked and enjoyed.
Vitkin Red Israeli Journey 2017 ($19.99) is a solid Israeli wine and great Seder choice as well. It’s fruity, smooth and light, and the Vitkin story of having gone kosher only with the 2015 vintage really means that kosher wine drinkers are only now beginning to reap the benefits of this experienced winemaker’s hand. “This wine is a crazy blend,” said Yeruchum, noting it is a riff on a Rhone blend of GSC (grenache, syrah and carignan), which make up about 85 percent of the blend, while cabernet franc and marselan round out the rest. This non-mevushal wine has red fruit notes, spice and floral aromatics, firm, balanced tannins and a rich, smooth finish.
Dalton Grenache 2016 ($19.99) is, we found, a fantastic fit as a Seder wine. Smooth, spicy and pleasant, it was the first choice for a Seder wine for several tasters, who felt the shorter-than-average, sweetish fruity finish made it easier to drink. The grapes are harvested in the late summer and aged 12 months in French oak barrels. Fresh cherry and strawberry aromas abound, with a bit of spicy kick. This wine is also non-mevushal.
While prepping for the tasing, I had hoped that Italian table wines would be a good option to try as well for first cups, and we enjoyed the Cantina Giuliano Chianti 2016 ($17.99). This small farm-to-table winery run by Eli Gaultier in Tuscany is something we’ve been hearing about for years. It’s a great idea to support Jews working to create kosher wines in such famous wine regions, and even if the wine weren’t great, we’d want to support him. Luckily, the wine is great and a easy-drinking treat. This wine is also non-mevushal.
I assumed I would include a range of wines all around the $20 price point, but then Greg announced he had discovered Yarden’s Gilgal Pinot Noir 2014 and hoped to serve it at his Seder. This $14 non-mevushal wine is a truly solid option; drinkable and affordable, smooth and soft. It turns out that particular wine also serves as a harbinger of things to come; the 2016 version, priced just a few dollars more, at $17, was so impressive that it caught the attention of critics. It was awarded 85 points by Wine Enthusiast, which is quite a feat for such an affordable kosher bottle.
Third Cup Onward
For those interested in drinking Israeli wines for the Seder’s later cups, which many of us saw as an imperative, we tried a few Israeli wines that were a little more intense, which we would recommend only as an accompaniment to food, essentially for the third cup onward.
Gvaot Vineyard Dance 2016 ($29.99) was what I called a wild card for inclusion in the Seder wine tasting. I included it because I liked it before and wanted to taste it again to see if it was still tasting well. I also think there is room for some personal preference with Seder wines. That this was the only wine in the tasting over $30 is surprising, as I would consider many of these bottleS very well priced, even bargains if you consider their smoothness. Even the most experienced wine drinker gravitates to what he or she likes best for a cup or two during the Seder. Vineyard Dance is what we are starting to understand as a “classic Israeli bordeaux,” comprised of 45 percent merlot, 30 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent cabernet franc, and aged 12 months in French oak barrels. Non-mevushal, the wine is soft, round and seasoned, which is “typical for merlot,” said Daphna. “Tart like cherry but with a spicy finish,” said Chana.
Shiloh Privilege 2017 ($19.99) is Shiloh’s entry-level mevushal blend of 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 36 percent syrah, 10 percent grenache and 9 percent cabernet franc. The wine was aged 13 months in French oak barrels, which we gather had been toasted, because the notes of smoke were evident throughout the tasting. The smoke was strong and surprising compared with the other wines in this tasting, and we found it masked the more subtle currant or blackberry notes, replacing them with tobacco or cigar box. We all felt this was a fun wine for those who are looking for a little kick of flavor, but by and large found it must be paired with food to be fully enjoyed. “I was waiting for a wine like this,” said Josh. “This wine has flavor.” Those who like the exceedingly smoky bottles like Alexander the Great from Alexander Winery would really like this.
The best advice we have always gotten for Seder, however, is that wine choices for Pesach Sedarim aren’t or don’t necessarily have to be a true test of a person’s wine palate. Even if one truly likes a particular wine for Shabbat, it can still be difficult to drink four cups of it. So feel free to mix it up and try new things. Or if you have a weeknight favorite that you know goes well with a variety of dishes, there’s no shame in that either. The best thing about the Seder has always been to enjoy being with family; enjoy the Kal, concord grape juice, Manischewitz or Bartenura, but when you do so, please always do it with the mitzvah in mind. From our homes to yours: chag kasher v’samei’ach!
By Elizabeth Kratz