A Long Kosher History

Rioja is unique in that there are many producers which specialize in the production of Kosher wines, especially for a premium European wine region.  Many of these wineries date back well into the mid 1800’s.  Tempranillo makes up the vast majority of most of these wines and when done correctly is clearly on par with some of the greatest wine grapes in the world.  Intense notes of raspberry, cherry, and often providing the vanilla notes associated with American oak, Good Kosher Rioja is a treat for the wine lover.  

A Range of Styles

Tempranillo is a varietal that lends itself to interpretation, and can be found in heavily oaked, aged examples as well as “joven” or “young” fresh, clean and fruity ones.  It all depends upon what you are looking for and Spain’s Kosher producers will have everything you want.  One of the top producers is  the traditionalist Ramon Cardova winery which makes a broad array of food friendly wines meant for aging and heavy beef or traditional Spanish dishes.

The great noble grape of Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and some dare say all of Spain is made into an excellent Kosher wine by an increasing number of producers.

Clean and bright powerful nose and fruity, fresh, pleasant taste
Simple and young. This is in essence, if you will, a base model Tempranillo.
A serious but elegant wine
A youthful and vibrant wine

robust, rich tishbi reds: perfect with cheese and crusty breads

When I was asked to try a few of Tishbi Winery’s most elite selections before Shavuot, it was with a considerable thrill that I asked the winery’s importer, The River Wine’s Ami Nahari, to help me reach the winemaker, Golan Tishbi, and get his advice on how best to decant and serve the wine for my tasting team. With his father, Jonathan, 77 years young and still active in the day-to-day running of the winery, this father-and-son team is a true legend of Israeli winemaking.

In 1882, Golan Tishbi’s ancestors, the Chamiletzkis, started working the land in Zichron Yaakov, which was first claimed by Baron Edmund de Rothschild. They planted and developed vineyards in the area for Rothschild, and the family settled nearby. In 1925, as the story goes, the family hosted the famous poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. In honor of their warm hospitality, the poet proposed a new, Hebrew family name for them: “Tishbi” is an acronym standing for “a resident of Shefeya in Israel.”

At the beginning of the 1980s, the wine industry underwent a severe crisis and the price of grapes dropped drastically. As a result, Jonathan Tishbi decided to open a small winery of his own in 1984 in the same Judean Hills. Golan Tishbi, now part of the fifth generation of family members working these fields, has been winemaker since 1991. He studied wine science and viticulture at Hawkes Bay University in New Zealand, which has extensive coursework for continuing generation winemakers. “These are people who are coming from the industry who need a certain type of information to become their winery’s winemaker. New Zealand has a lot of these people, family members who care for their family vineyards,” he said.

Turning to his wines, Tishbi told me that his favorite wine was the Tishbi Single Vineyard Ruby Cabernet. Ruby cab is a graft made at University of California at Davis’s viticulture lab, of the carignan and the cabernet sauvignon grape. “I drink this in my house; The color is very deep and thick,” he said. Tishbi has been bottling it as part of their ‘Single Vineyard’ series since 2010, and it was the 2013 wine, aged for 12 months in new American oak from Lebanon, Missouri, that my team was given to try.

As with all his reds, Tishbi recommended I decant his ruby cab, and let it breathe for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving; this would allow for the wine to begin aerating. Tasting a four-year-old bottle of wine should be an enjoyable, unrushed process, and we tasted it along with The Cheese Guy’s bastardo del grappa cheese, ‘Yummy’ brand asiago and some Shelburne Farms aged kosher cheddar made by a member of our tasting team, our own “cheese guy,” Mark Bodzin of Muncle Ark’s Gourmet. Mark brought several different aged cheddars to our tasting, as well as another from Ludwig Creamery’s called Jacob’s Dream, which he has also distributed through his online shop. Tishbi also recommended we taste the wines with crusty bread, like sourdough or spelt, dipped in good quality olive oil.

In addition to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, we were asked to try the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, the Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, and the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010.

Joining our tasting for the first time were a few members who, for the first time, brought their spouses, so our now clearly legendary tasting team was quite a bit larger than its usual size. Tasting the Tishbi wines were Eliana, Deena, Chana, Ari, Allyson, Shoval, Michal, Yeruchum, Brooke, Jen, Michelle and Mark.

Starting with the only white wine in our tasting, the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, everyone immediately noticed its sweet, apple-scented nose, and we all expected it to be of syrupy viscosity and ultra-sweet. But the nose belied little about the taste. “It comes off like a chardonnay, it tastes like a cold fall day, not at all as sweet as you would expect,” said Shoval. “It’s nothing like the Late Harvest Gewürtztraminers from Baron Herzog,” commented Yeruchum.

The Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was our first red, and arguably prompted the most varied reaction around the table. It was aged 12 months in American oak and made of 85 percent cabernet and 15 percent merlot. “It’s complex, but lacks viscosity,” said Mark. “The raisin color put me off; it’s garnet, when it should be ruby,” said Chana. Chana, who, with spouse Ari, opened another bottle of the same wine the next day, continued to comment on the color, which we debated long and hard. “It still has a slightly acerbic nose; the body is still lacking in viscosity; and the taste is still reminiscent of raisin,” she reported. The plum notes and forest berries feel were surprising for a cabernet, and the thinner viscosity was surprising for a 12-month oak aged wine. We recommend you grab the last few bottles of this vintage now and drink it for Shavuot. The 2011 vintage is set to be released on Rosh Hashanah.

We also noted that this was the most inexpensive of the reds we were tasting, and that for $25, a kosher wine still tasting good from 2010 is an absolute steal. “This is a good wine for this price point,” said Yeruchum.

Turning to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, I reported to the group that Golan Tishbi had been bottling ruby cabernet as a single vineyard estate selection since 2010. The original goal of the ruby cab graft was to obtain the superior quality of a cabernet wine, and the resistance to heat of the carignan, to combine into an inexpensive table wine. Tishbi had been using ruby cab in its wine well before 2010, in its blends.

“I like this one,” said Deena. “The color is deep; it’s a true ruby,” said Ari. “I can taste the terroir here; the tannins are not very strong. This is earthly, and this is what Israeli wines should taste like,” said Yeruchum.

“This wine is true to its name,” said Shoval. I agreed. “Just the name, Ruby Cabernet, makes me want to buy it, relax and enjoy it,” I said.

“It’s smooth going down. It has that good cabernet warmth, but not that much of an alcohol taste… It got smoother as I tasted it again. This is my favorite,” said Michelle.

Moving on to the biggest, most robust wine of the evening, I reported what the winemaker had told me about the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010. “It’s our most complex vineyard selection, and 2010 was the most worthwhile putting it in the bottle. I have not done since yet, to put my father’s name on it,” Golan Tishbi told me.

The Jonathan Tishbi is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged 24 months in American oak. “Its density and aroma, the axis of volatile acidity, when properly aerated, that’s what you will notice,” said Tishbi.

“This wine has a thicker viscosity, with a more aggressive, sweeter nose,” said Chana. “The first taste is a little sweet, but it transitions and finishes off drier. It has the mouthfeel of merlot at the end,” said Mark. “I have not tasted a wine this complex, this smooth, this well-constructed, in a long time,” I told the group.

“I think the underlying taste is chocolate,” said Eliana, as she described the wine’s richness. “At first I liked the Ruby better, but this is growing on me. But, if I had to choose, I would pick the Ruby, because with the Jonathan, there are so many flavors going on, it’s hard to keep up,” said Deena.

the rise of affordable (good) kosher bordeaux

Last week I had the pleasure of joining two friends, both somewhat well-known kosher wine critics, at a local wine tasting, where I tasted some of the most expensive and flashy bottles currently available in the kosher marketplace. It was a pleasure to see so many bottles open, and so many people enjoying, and indeed celebrating, the vast improvements that the wine business has brought to kosher oenology in the past decade. Indeed, there are more people working in the kosher wine business, more non-kosher wineries doing kosher runs and more marketing being done around kosher wine than ever before. But that is not what this article is about.

What this article is about is helping you choose wine you like for your Seder without going broke. There used to be a great difference between wine I liked and wine I thought was good, or expensive enough to be impressive, and I want to share what I have learned so that perhaps you can be confident in choosing what you like as well. (Particularly for Pesach, I have always felt that if one must drink four glasses of something, it should be chosen with care and self-awareness, and that you should think about what you can enjoy drinking a full glass of, without feeling bloated or over-satiated or, God forbid, too sleepy, before that fourth cup.) I also like to think about what I am serving as well, and hope to make sure that any bottle on the table goes well with whatever is being eaten.

With that in mind, what I will be drinking, and indeed serving, this year at my Sedarim are French Bordeaux wines. As you will likely read elsewhere, the wines in France were very, very good in 2014, and it’s around now that these kosher Bordeaux wines are starting to reach their peak. The Bordeaux region has, since Medieval times, been an excellent environment for growing vines, and Bordeaux wines are generally blends comprising Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Anyone who likes dry, fruity wines will be extremely comfortable trying Bordeaux.

“These are young wines, vin de pays (country wine),” said Scott Maybaum of Wine Country. They are not overly sophisticated, but they don’t have to be. They are just good table wines,” he told me. In fact, kosher French wines are so much on the rise that Maybaum has extended the kosher wine section in the Bergenfield store to hold at least 20 percent more bottles of kosher wines, mainly French. This brings the total amount of kosher wines bottles for sale in his store to approximately 50 percent of all the 750ml bottles for sale.

Another very important point is that most of the wines, particularly La Fille Du Boucher 2014 (The Butcher’s Daughter), retail at around $12, as do all the other wines I am recommending in this column. This is not a joke. These are excellent dry wines, with fancy bottles (with French words and all!) and (I won’t tell if you won’t) no matter how hard you try, they are not likely to break the bank.

“While the most popular non-kosher wines we sell cost about $12, by comparison, our most popular kosher wines sell for about $17. Since expanding our selection of kosher offerings, we now carry more wines at lower price points. As a result, this season I anticipate we will see greater sales and more wines purchased at the traditionally non-kosher price point of $12. We have some great values from France,” said Maybaum.

The La Tour Pavée Bordeaux Supérieur 2014 is absolutely excellent; it just brims with cheer and drinkability with bold fruit and easy smoothness. Château Bellerives Dubois Blaye Côte de Bordeaux is the only one of the five I tasted with that big hit of pleasant minerality that is generally typical, and expected, of the more expensive Bordeaux.

Another wine from this region recommended particularly by Gabe Geller of Royal Wines is Château Les Riganes, “a lovely, soft wine from Bordeaux that features notes of red fruit and earth,” he said.

There were two wines here I tried for the first time. The first was the Château Jaumard Vin de Bordeaux 2014. It was so fruit-forward, with scents of cherries and raspberries, and so simple and easy that I can’t imagine anyone not liking it immediately. The second was the Château Rossignol Bordeaux 2014. Again, warm, berry notes were immediately present with a little extra acid and plumminess that was both pleasant and surprising.

I think it’s high time people start choosing wine based on what they like, and I have always liked French Bordeaux. It’s only now that it’s really a perfect time to enjoy them.

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