Monday, April 2, 2007

Two for Passover and Beyond

Passover is here, and if you're a wine afficianado and invited to a Seder at a house that is even slightly observant, you've run into the annual problem: where to find a kosher wine that will please the palate as well as the table's sense of ritual?

Like wine the world over during the past decade or so, kosher wine has come a long way recently. Unless you're determined to buy Kedem or some such syrup, you'll have a tough time finding a truly terrible kosher bottle. Still, simple drinkability isn't really the point, is it? And many kosher wines still lack the complexity of their non-kosher cousins, even if they're not mevushal. I've tasted enough kosher wine over the years that I have a few dependable stand-bys up my sleeve. Yarden's Mount Hermon Red, running about $12, is a trustworthy Bordeaux blend from Israel, full and peppery. And Baron Herzog's Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg, priced at about $8, may be the best bargain on the market, and quite enjoyable, too.

Once prices climb above $20, I get more wary, because typically the quality doesn't improve much with the cost. But Passover is a special occasion, so something special is called for. So here are two wines which are so world class, you would never know they had a heckscher unless someone told you.

Out of the Priorat region of Spain is Capçanes' Flor de Primavera 2001, a Grenache-dominated red with an impressive silkiness, lively fruit, some spice and rich complexity. This is a beautiful wine. It has an interesting story behind it. The vineyards were used for bulk wine production until about 10 years ago, when the Jewish community of Barcelona asked the company to make them a kosher wine. Going about the assignment, the owners realized the true quality of the vines they were misusing and produced a superior wine that became a cult hit around Spain. Soon, in a flip of the usual situation, non-Jews were pleading with Capcanes to make a non-kosher version of their wine. They did, and both types of wines have been selling well since. Flor de Primavera will set you back $50, but it's worth it.

Jean-Luc Thunevin, the garagist artist of Bordeaux's Chateau Valandraud, needs no introduction. His boutique Bordeaux have been popular for some time. But most probably don't know that he makes a kosher and a kosher mevushal version of the same wine, both of which are nearly as delectable as the original. They most likely wine the prize for Best Kosher Wine in the World. Again, there's a story behind this. Thunevin grew up in Nigeria, where he had many Jewish friends. Once his winery was up and running, he wanted to thank his friends by created a wine for them. A purely selfless gesture. Now, the Chateau Valandraud will take $250 out of your pocket, so it's hard for me to recommend it to a regular consumer. But Jean-Luc makes a second, more affordable label, Virginie de Valandraud, which is priced at $50. It's not as stunning as the Valandraud, but it runs alongs the same themes.

There you go. You've got four glasses of wine to drink at that seder. Might as well enjoy them.

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