By Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound
Thirteen years ago, the annual JTNews wine tasting was born. Today, it becomes a man. Like every lifecycle event in Jewish tradition, each one says goodbye to the past and marks the start of something new.
Please join us in toasting The Jewish Sound on its last Passover wine tasting.
We owe enormous thanks to Michael Friend of Royal Wine Corp. — and before Michael, his wife, Esther — for taking us on a journey through the best of the kosher wine industry every year. These tastings have been a highlight of the year each spring, and we hope you have been able to use our reviews to populate your Passover tables with delicious libations.
We would also like to thank the Summit at First Hill for offering us its penthouse suite for the past three years, and for helping us taste in style!
Finally, thank you to all of our tasters over the years, and to this year’s tasters: Cheryl Hanson, Ari and Rachel Polsky, Adam Balkany, Douglas Weisfeld, and Ned Porges.
Most of these wines are available through Affordable Kosher (affordablekosher.com), and you’ll find some at Albertson’s and QFC on Mercer Island and QFC at University Village.
One last time, with feeling: “L’chaim!”
Barkan Reserve Barrel Aged Chardonnay
This white is made with grapes the Upper Galilee and the Jerusalem Mountains that experience a nightly temperature drop due to the high altitude of the vineyards. The result is a smooth, semi-dry, “restrained” wine, with notes of pear and butter. Our tasters picked up on a yeasty quality. Recommended with full-flavored chicken or fish.
Reviews: “Try this with apples and honey.” — Cheryl
“Smooth, woody, balanced.” — Ned
From the makers of everyone’s favorite blue bottle Moscato comes this terrific prosecco. A great stand-in for Champagne, it’s not as dry as a brut and not as sweet as Moscato. This also pairs well with appetizers, pasta, pizza, or seafood. It’s well balanced, slightly fruity, and appropriately bubbly. Tasters picked up citrus and even a hint of cotton candy. “This prosescco will surprise you,” Michael said as he poured. Indeed, it makes the favorites list.
Reviews: “Clean finish, peach, pear.” — Ari
Carmel Selected Sauvignon Blanc
Given a rating of 89 by Wine Spectator and noted as a “best buy,” this bargain white is a “great Pesach wine,” said Michael. The wine is young, un-oaked, and easy to drink, the downside being a flat finish and thin flavor. It would be well paired with fish, hors d’oeurves, or salad. It’s not an exciting wine, but who says wine always has to be exciting? Sometimes a simple, light flavor hits the spot.
Reviews: “Pineapple, fruity.” — Adam
Domaine Netofa Galilee
This Syrah-Mouvedre blend is a smooth wine without much complexity. Smokey and berry on the nose, our tasters picked up raisin and nutmeg in the flavor. This would pair well with hard cheeses or grilled meats.
Reviews: “Not as bold as I would like, but it’s got a nice flavor to it.” — Adam
Elvi Herenza Rioja
This Rioja hails from northern Spain and received mediocre feedback from some the tasters, who were thrown by hints of sulfur on the nose. Nevertheless, it’s a smooth wine with notes of pepper, leather, and berry. This wine is only available currently in Portland.
“Big nose — very smooth. Easy drinking.” — Douglas
Domaine du Castel Petit Castel
The 15 percent alcohol content hits you in the nose, along with rhubarb, pepper, and raspberry. Domaine du Castel is known for creating Bordeaux blends with Israeli grapes, according to Michael, and this “little” Castel is a blend of wines not used for the Castel Grand Vin. This wine got the party started with positive reviews.
“Lovely. Balanced. Have with brisket. Or anything!” — Cheryl
Barons Edmond Benjamin Rothschild Haut-Medoc
Described as “big, earthy, rich,” this is a bold, elegant wine well paired with red meats. A dark ruby color, this Bordeaux blend has notes of berry on the nose and a dry, fruity flavor.
“Not too aggressive on the nose, simple yet appealing for the more complex palate.” — Adam
Chateau Le Petit Chaban
Not on the market yet — should be available by Passover
This young, medium-bodied wine holds hints of vanilla and oak, and even green pepper. Far more easygoing than the previous wine, this wine is like the perfect guy you’re just not attracted to. For others, it is young and feisty — good to drink but not so mature. It might go well with steamed vegetables, or light dishes of chicken or veal.
“Like a kid breakdancing.” — Cheryl
“Like Janet Jackson on ‘Diff’rent Strokes.” — Adam
Carmel Selected Cabernet Sauvignon
This might just be our favorite. A great drinking wine and a crowd-pleaser, this classic Cab is a best seller in Israel — and a killer deal here. With berry and blackcurrant on the nose, it’s a full-bodied wine that lasts long on the palate with notes of pepper and cherry.
“Excellent!” — Ari
“#1 red. Very deep, luscious, much fruit.” — Ned
“For people who love sweet wine, but don’t want a sweet wine.” — Adam
Barkan Reserve Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon
Smooth, big, and fruity, this Cab-Sauv won a Golden Cluster silver medal award in 2012 for best value. At first sniff, I thought, “pie!” Full of berry on the nose, the wine opens up to vanilla and raisin. According to the tasting notes, the Northern Galilee grapes are handpicked and harvested “at exactly the right moment to create a big and firm wine,” which is barrel-aged in French oak. This bottle can be set aside for a couple of years, as it will continue to improve.
“Fine bouquet” to enjoy with “cheese or roast meats.” — Douglas
“Smooth start, robust finish, very mild tannins. Blackberry, prune.” — Ari
A Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend from the Jerusalem Hills, this is a fruity, somewhat sweet wine with notes of berry, blackcurrant, vanilla and spice. The Psagot Edom winery sits high up in the Judean Hills, where, while working the land, the vintners discovered caves and a wine press from the time of the Second Temple. The cave serves as a wine cellar, and the vines are planted in a rocky limestone terrain in ancient Mediterranean style. Smooth and complex, with our tasters picking up notes of cherry and raisin.
“So, so complex. Fruity front, nice afterglow.” — Joel
Never judge a wine by its label is the lesson learned here. Past the cutesy name (the “C” stands for “Covenant,” the name of the winery) is a rich, bold wine worth splurging on. Nose notes include berry, currant, caramel, and vanilla, with chocolate, anise, leather, and raspberry on the palate. Long finish. A good wine to pair with roasted or grilled meats, or to just “put your feet up to,” according to Rachel.
“Fine bouquet — tops.” — Douglas