June 20, 2024
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The Ultimate Seder Wine List Is Here

The weeks leading up to Pesach are the U.S. kosher wine industry’s busiest, with more kosher wine purchased during this period than during the rest of the year combined. As wine continues its popularity surge among mainstream kosher consumers, producers are responding in kind with over 3,000 kosher wines being produced annually.

Elevated Stress Levels

While obviously positive, the abundance of wine labels from which to choose can add to the holiday stress already magnified by the need to prepare commercial numbers of matzah balls while eradicating every last speck of potential chametz from your home. With plenty of mediocre-at-best options and far too many unacceptably old wines being offered, the sheer terror induced by contemplating selecting wines for the seder is far removed from the festival of freedom Pesach is supposed to represent.

Help Is Here

In order to assist in navigating these potentially treacherous waters, I’ve tasted almost every one of the available options and selected 10 options in each of the following five price ranges (for more options check out my Annual Pesach Wine Buying Guide): (1) Under $18, (2) $18-29.99, (3) $30-49.99, (4) Over $50 and (5) Moshiach Wines (wines I’d proudly serve the Moshiach, were he ever to grace my table).

With the quality of white wines increasing year over year there are more and more white wines on the list every year. If you are one of those “I don’t drink white wine” people, please take this as an opportunity to try something new—I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Fine Print

As a practicing attorney, I know any guide would be incomplete without a few important caveats.

Seder Drinking Conundrum

Among wine lovers’ favorite customs, the tradition to consume four full cups of wine at the seder can create some issues, as that’s a lot of wine to consume at one sitting. Leaving wine in a traditional silver goblet for the duration of maggid can wreak havoc with the wine’s nuanced aromas and flavors. Sticking to red wines and avoiding mevushal are traditions that can further complicate the wine-selection process.

As the seder represents one of the most important meals on the Jewish calendar and certainly the most exalted kiddush of the year, using the best wines is often considered. However, despite being among the kosher wine world’s best, the top-tier Bordeaux, Israeli and Californian wines can be difficult to enjoy while gulping them down in the hurried manner in which most of the seder’s four cups are mandated to be consumed. Between the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups, the halachic requirement to consume nearly an entire cup of wine rather rapidly and the need to keep a roomful of over-stimulated children from re-enslaving us all, most sederim offer far-from-ideal conditions for enjoying such magnificent wines.

The Perfect Solution

Personally I recommend saving the more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during Shulchan Aruch (or at least ensuring the wines are properly decanted in advance) while finding other worthy options for the four cups. Being a traditionalist, I stick to red wines for all four cups (although rosé is a terrific compromise on all fronts), while using a few basic principles to choose the proper wines. Despite the less-than-adequate conditions mandated by our traditions, seder night represents one of the most exalted evenings we get to spend in God’s company, and therefore top-quality wine is required. Given the typical disparate palate preferences at these family gathering, focusing on more crowd-pleasing and approachable wines will ensure everyone’s enjoyment. Medium-bodied wines with alcohol levels below 13.5 percent are good places to focus your search.

Parting Advice

During this busy buying season, retailers pull out all the stops to bring in your dollars with big sales everywhere. Between the increasing competition and online availability of most top-notch kosher wines, most wine merchants will match any published price, so always ask your favorite retailer to match the prices you have seen elsewhere and, if you aren’t happy with the price—ask for a discount.

Under $17.99

This range includes many good, enjoyable wines. With few exceptions, these wines aren’t complex or cellar worthy. Varieties less popular than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay tend to be cheaper given their relative lack of familiarity, so Petite Sirah, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Roussanne and Gewürztraminer can often provide better bang for your buck and are good places to look for bargains.

$18-29.99

While most great wines remain over $30, there are plenty of great ones here. In general, I find Carmel, Dalton, ElviWines, the Golan Heights Winery, Recanati and the wines under Herzog’s Special Reserve label to be consistent players in price range (while having terrific more expensive wines as well).

$30-49.99

As with most higher-end wines, especially those with a year or more of barrel aging, these need time to open up (often the current vintage should be regulated to a few years of aging since it simply isn’t ready for prime time). In any event, do yourself a favor and get a decanter to ensure that you are obtaining maximum benefit from these wines in the event that you don’t or cannot cellar them before enjoying.

Over $50

Even more than for the prior tier, proper aeration and cellaring will have a huge impact of extracting maximum pleasure from these wines.

Moshiach Wines (for more Moshiach Wines, check out my Best Wines of 2017)

Moshiach wines usually require patience on the consumer’s part to allow additional aging time in the bottle. Please note that (as is the case with many of the best wines), many wines will transform into Moshiach wines only after a few years of aging. As older vintages (that have been stored properly) are somewhat difficult to come by, the list includes the current vintage for many of the wines and, for a number of the wines, I have included at least one of the vintages that are Moshiach-level.

Yossie Horwitz is one of the world’s premier kosher wine educators. He has been tasting, drinking and learning about wine for over 25 years and been writing his weekly newsletter – Yossie’s Wine Recommendations – for almost 15 years. Find out more about Yossie at http://www.yossiescorkboard.com/.

By Yossie Horwitz

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