Thursday, March 23, 2006

2006 Kosher Wine Reviews

Purim is past and Passover is rapidly approaching. Many Orthodox Jews stock up on wine just twice each year, for Rosh Hashana and for Pesach. So it's time to buy!

I generally purchase months in advance, but my wife discovered a timely review of kosher wines by restauranteur Mark Tarbell here in The Arizona Republic. This is noteworthy for two reasons: it is only in the past twenty years or so that some kosher wines have started to match the quality of equivalent non-kosher ones, and it is interesting to see such reviews written for a community outside the major Jewish concentrations of New York, Los Angeles, and Miami.

I have tasted several of the wines listed and offer my comments:

2004 Dalton Canaan, Galilee The 2002 I purchased was just as good. Dalton is one of the best-kept secrets in the kosher wine business. That's because Royal controls most of the kosher wine distribution in this country, but Dalton and a few others distribute separately. When most kosher wine retailers advertise, even if they stock Dalton, often only products under the Royal Wine umbrella are listed.

Is this due to a fee-sharing arrangement between the retailer and distributor: "You leave out the Dalton and we'll give you a better price on our product"? If so, does this violate anti-trust or fair trade regulations?

Manischewitz Concord Grape The sweet and "foxy" wine I grew up with, I find its taste comparable to Robitussin. Retailers near me say they stock it because alcoholics find it a cheap and quick way to get their buzz on.

Indeed, I only see non-Jews purchasing this stuff nowadays. I have banished it from my house, and I never see it at the homes of my friends.

2004 Bartenura Pinot Grigio Tarbell's description is entirely accurate, but doesn't do this wine justice. 2004 was not a good year. My 2001 and 2002 bottles were absolutely marvellous! A perfect match with roasted turkey. I expect to taste the 2005 next month courtesy of a friendly distributor; if readers are interested, I'll report back.

Tarbell's reviews are far from complete, and perhaps oriented towards choosing for his restaurant's cellar. Other "hot" kosher wine brands include Galil Mountain and Yarden. I consider Yarden's Mt. Hermon Red 2003, a bordeaux-type, the best value on the market today. Better yet, get the 2001 - if you can still find it.

Australian kosher wines have gained in popularity, though they aren't my cup of tea. The Alfasi range of Chilean wines is notable for its cheapness. Decent Spanish and Portugeuse kosher wines have been around for a while, and I first started to see products from South Africa last year. The varieties of kosher wines available continue to increase, and new brands like Victor (French) are entering the market.

Even so, retail prices remain high. Kosher consumers are becoming more discriminating, and everyone benefits.

Addendum 3/24

How could I forget these? Our favorite sweet white wine is Moscato di Carmel: sweet, bubbly and fresh. If I desire a heavier but still refreshing white wine I choose a Sauvignon Blanc.

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