Kosher Wines for Passover

photo by Tim Sackton
photo by Tim Sackton

Finally, it’s here!  The holiest of holidays for wine drinkers is Passover.  Why? How many other holidays involve a divine ordinance to drink four (in some cases five) cups of wine at dinner? Sure some holidays suggest it, or even involve so much guilt that you need to put down a bottle of vino, but the Mishnah says that even the poorest man HAS to have wine at a Passover Seder. That’s a blessing. Lest we be judged, let’s dig in.

Of course there is one catch:  the wines have to be kosher for Passover.  That means that all of the ingredients must be kosher and the process of wine-making must be supervised by a Sabbath-observant Jew. And because Passover forbids the presence of chametz in the home, the wine must be fermented by yeast that did not grow on grains.

Lucky for you, kosher wines are at their all-time best right now, produced in traditional wine making countries and in the newer markets alike. No longer does Manischewitz speak for the observant oenophile. Some of the top wine producers all over the world are making great wines that are also kosher.  So while enduring the patient observance of Pesach, here are four cups of kosher wine you should not pass over at your Seder.

Sparkling Wine

photo by slgckgc
photo by slgckgc

It may not be common at the Seder table, but kosher sparkling wines can be surprisingly good and are a great way to kick off any meal. It’s smart to pick a versatile sparkling that can be both drunk as a toast to the holiday and also works well with the first bites of the meal.

Borgo Reale Prosecco is an easy to find, dry Italian sparkling wine with light fruit and a hint of acid that can stand alone or be sipped with fruits and nuts.  It’s the perfect match for Charoset.  And if you’re the traditional type – and who isn’t on the holidays – you can mix some Manischewitz in the Charoset for a little sweetness. This is a holiday about wine, after all.

White Wine

The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc craze has yet to die down, and now there’s a kosher version that will fit right in at the table:  Goose Bay South Island Sauvignon Blanc. This is an award winning, crisp white wine with light citrus notes and rich tropical flavors. It should work great with dishes like this Herb-and-Lemon-Roasted Chicken recipe from Gail Simmons, and this Roasted Halibut with Wine-Braised Fennel from Iron Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli who gives us another great excuse to cook with wine.  It even pairs well with gussied-up gefilte fish.

Red Wine

Red wine at Passover should be no pushover. It has to be big enough to pair well with a big brisket (or roasted lamb).  Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 from Judean Hills is a rich, spicy red wine, full of deep fruit flavors and black pepper. It’s a red sea you will want a part of and it will easily stand up to all of the bold flavors of seder like horseradish, bitter vegetables and especially the brisket. As an added bonus, it’s a great wine to use in braising the brisket. Try this recipe from Bon Appétit or simply improvise on your own.

photo by Seth Anderson
photo by Seth Anderson

Dessert Wine

Oy. Who has room for dessert?  Well, if you insist... It’s hard to pair a sweet wine with chocolate macaroons or Martha Stewart’s Matzo Toffee. So if super sweet food is your choice, just keep drinking the cab.  You’ll find the tannins drawn from the oak barrels a fine compliment to the sugar in the sweets.

But if you are going the lighter or more savory route for desserts, why not pair them with an ice wine from Golan Heights called Heightswine?  This wine is made with Gewurztraminer grapes which are frozen, then pressed, creating a rich, lightly viscous, sweet wine redolent of apricots, plums and orange blossom honey.  It could go well with some of the sweet deserts, but it really elevates less sweet offerings like this Pine Nut Brittle recipe from Saveur.com or this Cardamom Apple Almond Cake from Gourmet.com.

L'chaim!