Don't Passover These Holiday Wines
Hi folks, reprinting my Passover wine column of years past. I haven't been able to update my tasting picks, but I hope to in the future. Wishing you a happy Passover, and next year in person.
Friends, I am reliably informed there is a serious longstanding problem that will threaten the sanctity of homes everywhere this weekend. As Constant Reader R. tells me, there is a lot of “seriously bad" Passover wine out there. A shandeh.
This is not my (St. Ephrem Grade School & Bishop Conwell High School for Girls graduate) area of expertise. And I’ve got my own problems trying to track down a sufficiently sweet wine for my family’s Easter dinner on Sunday.
So if wine is made from fruit, and fruit is almost by definition already kosher, why do we have to specify whether it’s kosher or not? According to My Jewish Learning:
In order for wine to be kosher, of course it has to contain only kosher ingredients. And according to traditional Jewish law, once the grapes are picked and brought to be crushed, only Shabbat-observant Jews can be involved in making the wine. From crushing to bottling, kosher wine must be handled exclusively by observant Jews.
Then there’s another rule about mevushal wine, which means “cooked.” This wine is super-heated and generally the choice when non-Jews are serving, particularly to Orthodox Jews. Which doesn’t sound too appealing to anyone who’s accidentally left a bottle in the back of their car in July. However:
The good news is that making a wine mevushal no longer entails actually boiling anything. I spoke with Scott Shumaker, the wine manager at kosherwine.com, and he told me that in order for wine to be called mevushal these days it’s heated up very quickly in a process called flash pasteurization.
Red wine gets up to a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (white wine gets a slightly lower temperature) for less than a minute and then is cooled down very quickly in order to limit the amount of damage the heat might do to the flavors in the wine. This procedure is based on a responsum from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who ruled that flash pasteurizing could be counted as making something mevushal.
Last year, when I first delved into this topic, Rabbi Stuart Pollack at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington, NJ was nice enough to respond to an email question:
To get the most traditional “kosher” seal, a wine — including any added yeast and finings — needs to be handled and overseen solely by practicing Jews. This was to prevent Jews from using wine (for sanctified purposes) from being also used in pagan ceremonies. Therefore kosher wine is supervised to make sure that nothing of an untoward nature happened to it during the process of making it. This is of course is from antiquity that has held today in its production. Kosher for Passover means that during the process the wine did not come in contact with any contaminated material [such] as wheat, barley, oats etc… (grains if they are fermented are forbidden to be eaten during Passover)
So my interpretation is all mevushal wines are definitely kosher for Passover, but not all kosher wines are mevushal. Sorry if I’m oversimplifying, but my exposure to rabbinical laws comes almost entirely from Law & Order episodes.
Last year I tasted some bottles I’d ordered from Kosherwine.com, so I’ll share those notes here again.
Weinstock Cellar Select Chardonnay 2016: This is a classic North Coast chardonnay, with plenty of oak on the nose. Creamy mouthfeel, little melon on the palate. Not overly fruity. Even my oak-averse chard friends liked this. I had this later in the week with salmon. [Mevushal]
Normally I don't advocate buying wine based on a cool label or name alone. However. When given the opportunity to buy a wine called The Chosen Barrel, for a Passover wine tasting, do it. I chose the 2014 sauvignon blanc. It's very fruit-forward on the nose, more melon. Really nice mouthfeel. If you’re not a fan of herbaceous or grassy sauv blancs like from New Zealand, you’ll much prefer this! [Couldn’t find this wine listed for sale anymore, but red wines from The Chosen Barrel are marked as not mevushal.]
Hagafen Merlot 2013: I initially ordered the 2015, but Jared from KosherWine, a real mensch, let me know that it was completely out of stock and offered me the 2013 instead. Hagafen suffered damage in the wildfires of 2017, but as of October their tasting room was once again open for business. I've no idea whether this damage is why the 2015 was out of stock. At first whiff, there was a lot of sweetness on the nose, causing flashbacks to Manischewitz for some of my tasting crew. Once past that though, there was a lot of black fruit on the palate. Would go great with any beef dish. [The 2016 vintage is marked mevushal.]
Teperberg Inspire Devotage 2016 ($20.49): This hearty blend of malbec and marselan might be my favorite of this group. Big and bold, another great match with any beef dish or roast. [The 2017 vintage is marked mevushal.]
Also, someone brought Mount Hermon White 2016 to my supper club last weekend. This pretty pale gold wine comes from Galilee and is a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It’s marked kosher for Passover but is not mevushal. I can tell by the clean bright flavor that it’s fermented in stainless steel, and it has a lightly floral nose. This would be a great aperitif before your holiday meal.