A lot can happen in two years. In 2013 I was unable to attend the annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience, sponsored by Kedem and held at the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly. This year, after getting there late (idiotically missed my bus stop), I dived into tasting and quickly became aware of something curious.
Everything I tasted was looking really good. And not only that: many of this year’s offerings, in which I concentrated mainly on wines from Israel and the New World, were notable not just for quality but for some surprisingly good value for money.
That may sound like a criticism, but I don’t mean it that way. Kosher winemaking entails extra production costs, and these find their way into the price tag on the bottle. Thus an honest wine hack sometimes has to think hard before recommending a good wine if it costs 50 per cent more than a non-kosher wine made in the same style.
At the KWFE, however, I found several bottles of terrific quality where the price differential would have looked more like 10 per cent.
Unwilling to trust my own judgement, I sought the opinions of a couple of experts. One was Morris Herzog, Director of Kedem Europe. When I put to him my theory that overall quality has risen, he replied: “It hasn’t risen. It’s skyrocketed.” The producers have seen that people want to have table wine, not just Kiddush wine, and that means it has to be good.
Danny Saltman, of north London merchant The Wine Man, is even more outspoken about quality: “It’s even higher than skyrocketed”, he says.
Both Saltman and Herzog point to certain important developments in the kosher market. Prices have moderated to what Saltman calls a “sensible” level – at least from the larger producers who enjoy economies of scale. The kosher premium is not as high as it once was, and there are good wines even at the low end of the scale (which for kosher wine means £9-10, according to Morris Herzog). Activity in Israel is strong and growing stronger, both in volume and in quality.
And the technical prowess grows steadily. Especially in the formerly vexed area of mevushal, we’ve never had it so good. Morris Herzog: “you often can’t tell that a wine is mevushal.” And I found exactly the same thing at KFWE.
Needless to say, kosher wine is not a picture of perfection. Not everything I tasted at KFWE was wonderful, and I’m sure there’s still plenty of stuff out there that is overpriced and of mediocre quality. But when I think back to a Seder in New York around eight years ago when we had five wines on the table all over the equivalent of £25 and all virtually undrinkable, I can see where things are moving. And I like what I see.
Below are five of my favourites, all red and three of them Cabernet Sauvignon. The two three cheapest are the stars for giving max imum quality for minimum price. All are worth bearing in mind for Pesach, when Cabernet goes so well with the obligatory lamb.
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Richard Ehrlich's top five kosher picks
Baron Herzog Cellar Select Lodi Zinfandel 2010
Made with fruit from several vineyards in Lodi, one of California’s highest-temperature growing areas, this has the massively powerful tannins you would expect in this territory. But it also has the rich, intense berry flavours to match. And at around £13.75, the price is right.
Just watch out for that second glass: Lodi Zin is always high in alcohol, and this one’s a real bruiser at 15.5 per cent.
Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
The company works with a few select growers in Napa and Sonoma who supply them with very fine fruit. And the winery handles it with TLC.
This comes in at a tasteful 13 per cent alcohol, and while there is plenty of oak in the mix, it isn’t allowed to mask the lush blackcurrant and blackberry flavours that make this so instantly attractive. £22.99.
Adama Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
This was really a shock at the tasting. A remarkably well balanced wine for 100 per cent Cab, with deftly handled oak lending a nice spicy note to its warm, lush basket of mixed berries and a touch of milk-chocolate sweetness. The shock came in the price, which at £15.99 is extremely fair for such a classy wine. The Tabor winery in Galilee, which makes this wine among many others, has “terra rossa” soils: the same kind found in Australia’s Cabernet Capital, Coonawarra. Not a coincidence, I suspect.
Barkan Superior Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
At £24.95 this is a wine that few can call a painless purchase, but you’re getting a lot for your money. The wine is unfiltered, and profoundly weighty in the mouth. This is Cabernet writ large in every dimension, big and bold, but there is a lovely streak of mint that manages to keep it fresh and lively. One to savour.
Capçanes Peraj Petita 2012
I have recommended an earlier vintage of this lovely wine from an outstanding Catalan producer, and I am delighted to recommend the new vintage again. The blend is dominated by Garnacha and has a savoury, spicy, brambly quality that I find completely irresistible. I fear that I could drink a whole bottle all by myself. Non-mevushal, not that that seems to matter much anymore. And a snip at £14.99.