Who better to ask about great wines for Passover than people who buy wine for a living? At the Israwinexpo 2008 in Tel Aviv, I tasted kosher wine with a diverse group of buyers for American-based retailers, including HEB Kosher Store, Best Cellars, A&P Liquor, BevMax and Skyview.
Israel is emerging as a high-quality wine producer. The volcanic terrain of the Golan Heights lends a spiciness to its wines. The Judean Hills near Jerusalem bring a distinct herbaceous quality, as if thousands of years of bay, sage and desert plants seeped into the vines. The Upper Galilee — a rugged, rocky region along the Lebanese border — is considered the best wine-producing area.
The following list features some new Israeli standouts available in the United States. These reds and whites represent every price point. And fear not: Virtually every wine produced in Israel is kosher, and kosher for Passover.
Dalton Estate Fumé Blanc 2007
Sun-ripened flavors of orange and nectarine, crisp acidity. An aperitif that goes well with grilled fish and sushi. $12 Yarden Muscat 2005
A sweet dessert wine with luscious notes of candied peaches, juicy tangerines, honey and a hint of vanilla. Serve this with Passover honey nut cake. $16 Galil Mountain Viognier 2006
Reflects Israel’s potential for southern Rhone-style wines. Aromatic, fresh and floral, with just a hint of oak. It holds its own against spicy Asian food as well as chicken and fish. $17 Yarden Chardonnay 2005
Sourced from the Golan Heights, this offers a balance of fruit and floral notes like a Napa Valley Chardonnay. This will complement any chicken, fish or vegetarian dish. $17 Barkan Chardonnay Reserve 2005
A fresh and lively chardonnay with crisp notes of pear, green apple and white peach that are complemented with a hint of vanilla-tinged oak on the lingering finish. Serve with roasted chicken. $17 Segal Galilee Heights Chardonnay 2004
A reserve Burgundy-style white offering a pleasant grapefruit and floral bouquet. Perfect with poached salmon or stuffed chicken breast. $17 Domain Du Castel “C” Blanc Du Castel 2006
Castel has a reputation as the finest winery in Israel. This 100% chardonnay is full of rich, buttery notes with a long finish. Best with fish, chicken and other fowl. $50
Barkan Classic Pinotage 2005
Few Israeli winemakers grow this grape, a smoky little number with raspberry and cherry flavors. Good with heavy pasta, duck and cream-based sauces. $10 Binyamina Yogev Cabernet-Merlot 2005
“Yogev,” or farmer in Hebrew, is named after the grape growers. Aged in oak eight months, this easy drinking blend has generous fruit flavor and a nice lingering finish. Good with all types of cuisine, including potato kugel. $16 Noah Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Sourced from the Judean Hills, look for notes of plums, black cherries and assorted berries on the palate. Long, lingering finish. Enjoy with roasted meats, poultry or cheese. $17 Carmel Appellation Series Old Vines Carignan 2005
Carignan was once the workhorse of Israeli vineyards, but it’s been replaced by Cab. What a shame. This Carignan is dense with concentrated raspberry and blackberry flavors; the old vines give it backbone, depth and a smooth tannic structure. A meat lover’s wine. $20 Binyamina Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Full-bodied and complex, with a long, well-balanced finish. Enjoy this with glazed salmon, lamb or roasted duck. A great value at $20. Teperberg Meritage 2005
A silky blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this full-bodied red has an herbal hint showing its Judean Hills roots. Serve with heartier fare, like roast duck or beef stew. $20 Galil Mountain Yiron 2004
A defining wine that’s worth the search. A New World blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a bit of Syrah, showing the Upper Galilee’s potential. Note the chalky limestone nose among the dark berry, cherry and exotic spices. Good aging potential. Serve with roast beef or lamb. $22 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
A medium to full-bodied Cabernet with a velvety mouthfeel and inviting blackberry and spice notes. Smooth, round tannins. Serve with heavier meat dishes. $27 Barkan Altitude Cabernet +412 2005
A vineyard-specific New World wine grown at 412 meters above sea level in the Golan Heights (with 15% Kadesh Valley wine blended in). Reminiscent of a Chilean Cab, with impenetrable dark fruit, a rich aroma, and tastes of berries and cloves. Enjoy with rib or veal roast, or brisket. $30 Yatir Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz 2004
A full-bodied red blend with depth, concentration and a long finish. Best with meat and pasta. $33
Garrett Peck is a freelance writer for the alcoholic beverage industry. He’s the author of the forthcoming book “The Prohibition Hangover.”
A&P Liquor has retail locations in Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey.
Best Cellars has retail locations in the Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas.
BevMax is a wine and liquor superstore in Stamford, Conn. www.bevmax.com
HEB has three main kosher stores in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and more than 30 stores with expanded kosher sections. www.heb.com
Skyview Wine & Spirits is metro New York’s leading kosher wine and spirits retailer. www.skyviewwines.com