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The best/top kosher wines for Passover 2020 in all price ranges

I understand that these are incredibly trying times, however, people ask me for this list so I am putting it out there. My hope is that it brings happiness to someone. Even if it does not, as I always say, this blog is for me, and I mean no disrespect in posting this here and at this time. My hope is that it finds the value to some. My sincere best wishes for health, success, and safety to all!

As many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone, – with the last couple being canceled given the world we live in today. As I walked around KFWE this year – I was asked again for a list of my top kosher wines for Passover, so here it goes! This is my list of great and reasonably priced kosher wines.

A few caveats first, this is MY list! This is not a list that will make many happy. These wines are the wines that make me happy. No wines here would be considered overripe, over sweet, or all over the place. The wines here are listed in the order of cost. That said, the top line wines – what I call Top Flight wines, are not defined by cost at all. In that list, you can find a 2011 Yarden Blanc de Blanc or the 2013 Yarden Brut Rose, both are great sparkling wines. At the same time, the list includes some of the best high-end kosher wines I have ever tasted that go for $100 or so a bottle. The list of Top Flight wines is ALL wines that I would buy without hesitation, no matter the cost (if I can afford it of course).

Passover is a time of year when Jews buy the most wine, along with Rosh Hashanah, and the American New Year. That is why all the kosher wine events happened a month or two before the Passover festival. It gives the wineries and distributors a chance to showcase all their wines that each appeal to different market segments. So, no there are no sweet or semi-sweet baseline wines here. There are many very good 15 or so dollar bottles of wine, that can be bought at Skyview WinesGotham WinesSuhag Wine, and of course, and Gary’s store, along with the other wine stores I have listed on the right-hand side of this blog (as always I NEVER make money from them and I never know or care what people buy, the list is whom I buy wines from and so I can recommend them to others).

Also, the amount of money you spend does not define the value or quality of the wine. Take for example the less than 10 dollars 2018 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, white or red, or the slightly more expensive Herenza Crianza, and many others. These are great wines and the price is only an added benefit. However, there are many low priced wines that are not on this list, as they lack the quality required, IMHO.

Seeing the list and checking it twice (could not help myself), I am sure there will be a question – what defines a wine as a Top Flight wine and why are there wines that are not on it? The Top Flight wines, is a list of wines that personally was wowed when tasting them. That does not mean that the 2018 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, as nice as it is may or may not be, can compare to another wine on the 50 dollars and above list – that would not be fair. What it does mean was that when I tasted one of these Top Flight wines, I was wowed, and I said this is a wine that everyone should get – no matter the price. In the end, this is not about which is better than the rest it is a way to whittle down the list of wines that I enjoyed from a massive set of thousands of kosher wines available here in America. That is why I made the list. In hindsight, I am sure I will have missed some wines. If you do not see a wine you love and it scored a 90 or higher on this blog somewhere, then I can assure you that it was probably an oversight on my part.

Also, this is a PSA – please do not buy 2018 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard-earned money. Sadly, the 2019 roses I have tasted so far are a WASTE of time. The best of them are still in France and not here in the USA yet.

Arba Kosot (The Four cups of Passover)

Finally, it the Jewish custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines are far too hard for me (the concept there is to drink the base quantity of wine to fulfill your requirement – which is a Revi’it, within a certain time period). In the past, I was drinking red, Israeli wines that were simple to drink, not complex or impressive. However, with time, I found a better option, drink the majority of a small cup that fulfills the Revi’it quantity of wine. This way, I can drink an Israeli, not Mevushal, red wine – like a Netofa wine. This is explained more below. This year, I think I will go with Yarden Rose Brut Sparkling wine. It is Israeli, not mevushal, “red”, and lovely wine, and an acid BOMB! Read the rest of this entry

Herb encrusted Gefilte Loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Quinoa, Kugel, and lovely wines

This past weekend was still Passover and we invited friends and family to hang out and join us for a lovely meal. Passover is a time meant to represent rejuvenation, freedom, and the need for each of us to spark the embers of possibility that lie deep within us all. The combination of Passover and the Sabbath meant we needed to dig deep and make some really fun stuff, so that is exactly what we did. We made my favorite cut of meat, a brisket in the manner that we always do, with help from friends of ours that were hanging out with us for Passover. We also made other Passover favorites this year, including our Herb Encrusted Gefilte Fish Loaf, and a new vegetable kugel, that was killer. Most kugel has some kind of binding agent in it, and on Passover that is either Potato Starch or Matzah Meal. However, this recipe has neither! This is a slightly modified recipe from an insert we saw in a magazine created by the folks at the Pomegranate Supermarket in Brooklyn, NY.

Passover Vegetable Kugel Recipe

4 red potatoes (unpeeled)
4 yellow zucchinis (unpeeled)
6 carrots (unpeeled)
2 onions
6 eggs
3/4 cup of oil
Salt, pepper, and garlic to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grate all the vegetables in your food processor. Mix in the eggs, oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and then pour into either a single 9″ x 13″ pan or two 9″ round pans. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another hour. The kugel should be slightly charred on the top and sides but cooked thoroughly within, which is easy to check with a toothpick or fork.

The recipes for the brisket and the Gefilte Loaf can be found here.  We changed the brisket recipe only slightly, by NOT using ketchup, and using tomato sauce instead.

To pair with this feast we had a few wines, some that people brought over, and some that we took out of the cellar. One of them is a rather unique wine, a blend of Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc. This is not a common blend and one that many dislike, but one that we really liked and one we spoke about previously, when we wrote an article about Elvi Wines. Jay Miller, a wine writer and critic for Robert Parker‘s highly influential Wine Advocate newsletter, echoed the words “Kudos to the Cohens (of Elvi Wines) for this remarkable array of Kosher wines…” when tasting the Elvi’s wines. We have now tasted the wine in question a few times, the 2008 Elvi Ness Blanco, and each time it has put a smile on my face. Some critics did not like it, but Mr. Miller and I seem to like it just fine. This time around the wine is showing more Alsatian in nature, with rich honeyed styling and good minerality to boot. The wine went perfectly with the herb encrusted fish, the honey pairing well against the herb and the mineral notes pairing nicely with the fish’s slight sweetness and weight.

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Passover Seder, Four Cups of wine, Matzoh, meatballs, Qinuoa, and kugel

This past week was Passover, which started on Monday night. We always enjoy Passover with a few of our friends, with each of us trading off for who hosts the Seder, this year we did the hosting and it was a lovely party! We opened some wines, some nice, some OK, and some close to being duds. In the end it was a true joy and was enjoyed by all who attended, at least that is what they told me 🙂 We started the Seder off with some nice wines, listed below, and then moved on to whole-wheat hand shmurah Matzoh! This was the first year that we were lucky to get our hands on whole-wheat hand shmurah matzoh. It is very easy to get whole-wheat, spelt, or other cool versions of the five grains matzoh. However, this is the first year that I could easily get our hands on whole-wheat hand shmurah matzoh. The matzoh was thin and lovely but a bit stale, so we had to reheat the matzoh for 10 or so minutes in the oven to revive them and get them nice and crispy.

After that we had some lovely herb encrusted Gefilte fish loaf along with eggplant, onion, and mushroom salad. For the main course we had some lovely meatballs, kugel, quinoa, and a fresh green salad.

Now before you call me a heretic, yes I eat Quinoa on Passover, as does the CRC and the Star-K, while the OU has backed away from this whole mess and let people decide for themselves. We have been eating Quinoa for sometime on Passover and though others have an issue, we feel fine about it, though it is best to contact your own local area Rabbi. The New York Times heard about the tumult and wrote an article all about it.

Kosher for Passover Meatball Recipe (modified from the Early Show recipe):
3 tablespoons of Olive oil
2 coarsely chopped Onions
8 ounces of tomato sauce
4 tablespoons of  Parsley
3 broken up square Matzohs
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 eggs

Tomato Sauce for Braising the meatballs:
2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
2 finely chopped Onions
1 28 oz can of Tomato Puree or Tomato Sauce
2 cups of red wine

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions and sauté over a high flame stirring constantly until soft. Add the tomato sauce and parsley and continue to cook for three minutes. Remove the onions from the heat and set aside and cool. Once cool, add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly by hand and roll the meatballs into golf ball sized meatballs.

Now we need to create the braising sauce. Chop the two onions and saute them in the olive oil. Once browned nicely throw in the tomato sauce and wait for the sauce to thicken by a quarter. Then add in the wine and mix thoroughly. Then add in the meatballs one at a time into the hot braising sauce and cook the meatballs for 20 to 30 minutes.

The funny thing about the Early Show recipe was that it had liver in it, which is not for me. Also, they were roasting the meatballs and that is a no-no for the first two nights, as one cannot eat any type of roasted meat for the first two nights of passover, as it may look like the Passover Sacrifice which we do not have today. Yes, meatballs do NOT look like a sacrifice! Still, the law is: any meat braised is fine, any meat roasted (cooked without a sauce) is NOT. You can eat roasted vegetables.

For the four cups (arba kosos) and beyond we enjoyed the wines listed here in the order they were served:

2004 Golan Heights Winery Pinot Noir Yarden Kosher – Score: B++ to A-
This wine is really hitting its stride and may well be time to drink up! The nose on this dark garnet colored wine opened with black fruit that lays deep within this wine’s veins, but hidden initially under a blanket of oak. This wine opens with sweet oak, blackberry, raspberry, plum, and classic Pinot cherries along with coffee, dirt, and a hint of herbaceous mint. The mouth on this full bodied wine was velvety and mouth coating. The tannins are now well integrated and not mouth puckering and give a richness to the wine. The mouth starts with blackberry, raspberry, plum, and cherry, and flows into a mid palate of more oak, coffee, dirt, and some middling acidity. The finish is long with rich fruit, oak, chocolate, vanilla, and a bit of chocolate that rounds out the wine. This is a nice wine that is showing well but is time to drink up!!!

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Second Day Passover Meals and Wines

To celebrate the end of Passover, we had guests and family over for meals on the last days. We spent the entire Sunday cooking, and while it was crazy work, it was a ton of fun.

Sunday Night Menu (with family):
Chicken soup with matzo balls (my Father-in-law was not feeling well)
Roasted chicken
Carrot kugel (secret recipe) which I LOVE
Cranberry/Pineapple/Orange Relish
Fresh Salad

Wine Menu:
2007 Yarden Mount Hermon Red
– Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is filled with raspberry, cranberry, cherry, and blackberry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is soft with raspberry and cranberry. The mid palate is balanced with integrated tannin, acid, and slight concentration, along with a bit of roundness, without extreme oak presence. The finish is long and soft with nice dark fruit, full mouth, and acid. A nice wine that is ready to drink.

Monday Day Menu (Friends and Family):

Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf
Eggplant salad
Stuffed Vegetables
Vegetable Chunks
Fresh Green Salad

Eggplant Salad Recipe
2 Tablespoon of olive oil
Three onions cubed
1 lb of mushroom cubed
Two Eggplant cubed
1 16 or so ounce can of tomato sauce
Garlic Powder

Sauté the cubed onions in the olive oil, until brown.  Once browned, add the cubed mushrooms and wait for them to wither and brown as well.  Then add the cubed eggplant and wait for them to release their water.  Once the vegetables are soft, add in the tomato sauce, the spices, and wait for the mixture to firm up.

Vegetable Chunks (Feeds 24 or so folks)
4 large sweet potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
6 red potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
4 russet potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
6 zucchini cut into 1 inch wedges
2-3 onions cut into 1 inch wedges
Olive Oil coated roasting pan
Garlic Powder

Place the vegetables in water for 30 or so minutes.  Then drain the water and lay them in a large oiled roasting pan.  After each layer of vegetables cover them with garlic powder and paprika.  It is fine to have at most three layers of vegetables, but two is better.  Roast in oven covered at 350 degrees, for 30 minutes, then mix the vegetables around, cover with spices again, and place back in the oven till just tender, but with a bit of bite still left.

Wine Menu:
2004 Four Gates Chardonnay
– Score: A-
This bottle is quite different from the previous one we had. Instead of intense toasted oak, the wine showed characteristics very much in line with our tasting from 2008, except without the green flavors. The nose on this light gold to gold colored wine is filled with ripe fruit, peach, lemon, melon, butterscotch, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied and very rich Chardonnay is powered by some residual sugar, peach, melon, and citrus flavors. The mid palate is a strong crisp acid core mixed with some sweetness, and nice toasty (but not over the top) oak. The finish is a long crisp and refreshing stroll with toasty wood as a partner, along with butterscotch, and ripe melon. The wine is crisp yet has weight at the same time, a real joy.

2006 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+ to A-
This bottle turned out to be more red than our previous tasting of this wine, but it was still a concentrated mouth which was nice.  The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is filled with raspberry, cranberry, plum, toasty oak, and coffee.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is concentrated and focused with raspberry, cranberry, plum, tight and spicy.  The mid palate is bracing with acidity, toasty oak, and still not yet integrated tannins.  The finish is long and toasty with coffee, red berry, spicy oak, vanilla, and spice.  I guess I will chalk this one up to bottle variation.

Monday Night Menu (Family)
Chicken soup with matzo balls (my Father-in-law was not feeling well)
Roasted chicken
Stuffed Vegetables (leftovers)
Carrot kugel (secret recipe) which I LOVE
Cranberry/Pineapple/Orange Relish
Fresh Salad

Wine Menu:
Leftovers of FG Chardonnay and Yarden Mount Hermon Red

Tuesday Day Menu (Friends and Family):
Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf
Eggplant salad
Stuffed Vegetables
Kielbasa Stew
Vegetable Chunks
Sweet and Sour Brisket
Fresh Green Salad

We normally go with one or at most two dishes, but this time things worked out better for us to make the Kielbasa Stew that we have had pretty good success with recently.  Our guests brought two bottles of wine and they were really great, and they went very well with the dishes we had on the menu.

Wine Menu:
2006 Yarden Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard
– Score: A-
The nose on this light gold colored wine is hopping with ripe melon, fig, kiwi, apples, sweet oak, honeydew, and floral notes.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is toasty and spicy with oak, peach, melon, and apple.  The mid palate is bracing with core acidity, orange peel, spicy oak, and butter.  The finish is super long with butter, toasty oak, lemon, ripe melon, and good acidity.  Finally, the flavors of oak, butter, and lemony acidity linger forever on the palate after the wine is long gone.

2006 Domaine du Castel, Petit Castel – Score: A-
This wine starts off slow but explodes with a crazy rich nose and mouth as it airs out.  The nose on this dark purple to black colored wine explodes with a rich voluminous oak, rich dark chocolate, plum, jammy cassis, and blackberry.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is soft, supple, and rich with a full/velvety mouth from lovely soft tannins that still coat the mouth, along with ripe blackberry, cassis, chocolate, and black plum.  The mid palate is filled with oak, integrated tannins, and still good acid.  The finish is super long with chocolate, blackberry, oak, lovely tannins, rich/ripe plum on a bed of chocolate and tobacco.

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