Megapost: Wine Blogging Wednesday #56: “Fine” Kosher Wines

I am new to the internet wine community, but if you start searching out wine blogs, something that comes up consistently is “Wine Blogging Wednesday.” The phenomenon was dreamed up by the king of New York State wine bloggers, Lenn Thompson of LENNDEVOURS and the monthly endeavor is now managed by Lenn and many other prominent online wine personalities. The idea is a monthly wine tasting revolving around a loose theme. Drink the wine, then blog about it. Previous themes have included Piedmont, Maderized wines, and Wine for Breakfast. This month, in honor of Passover, the theme is “Fine Kosher Wines”.

Though I’ve never sought them out, I’m sure that there are probably lots of great kosher wines out there, mevushal or not (more on that later). Israel is becoming a name of note in the wine world, especially the Golan Heights. I reckon that this theme was brought about to eradicate a sort of stigma that has developed about kosher wines. To be specific, it’s commonly thought that they are disgusting, sickly sweet, and only to be drunk once a year, 4 cups at a time, during the Passover seder, and that gentiles (like yours truly) should avoid them altogether. So I expect that many bloggers will be picking up selections from newer high-quality producers such as Covenant, Noah, and to a lesser extent, Baron Herzog.

Me, pleading with Laube, Jancis, and Parker to have mercy on bad kosher wines

Me, pleading with Laube, Jancis, and Parker to have mercy on bad kosher wines

But hey, everybody deserves a second chance, right? I mean, when’s the last time you actually had Manischewitz? The rest of the wine blogosphere will enjoy some high-end kosher wines that might rate 90+ from wine critics. I, like Abraham, will beg the wine gods to recant their punishment on the Sodom and Gomorrah of kosher wines. We’ll see if any righteous wines are found amongst the wickedness. Four righteous people were found in Sodom, so here are four classic wines, pretty much the only kosher wines to be found at Collegetown Liquors. Hey, times are tough, okay?

Manischewitz Concord Grape
Appelation: American (these grapes could be from anywhere in the USA, but chances are the Concords are from New York)
Varietal: from the bottle: “Not less than 51% Concord”
ABV: 11%
RS: “Specially sweetened”
Price Point: $6

The kosher bunch

The kosher bunch

Notes:
Looks: uniform red with hints of purple, pretty translucent
Nose: The most apparent aroma is the characteristic aroma of native American grapes, e.g., Concord. Some would call this “foxy”. Never having smelled a fox personally, I’d say it smells like Welch’s grape juice. Next it made me think of Push pops. Remember them? A solid purple cylinder of grapey flavor that you could put a cap on and save for later.
Palate: Straightforward, decent bodied mouthfeel. A slight amount of bitterness on the finish. Very, very sweet in the mouth, with little acidity or alcohol to back it up. It drinks like soda, and it probably has more sugar than soda. That being said, people like to drink soda. I can see people actually liking this.

The mother of all kosher wines is Manischewitz. With its Concord pedigree and extreme sweetness, not many in the mood for wine should pick this one. However, just because it’s not a great wine doesn’t mean it’s a bad beverage. It goes down smooth and tastes like grape syrup. Ugh, now the outside of my glass is all sticky.

Rating: 2 corks corkcork

Herzog Selection Chardonnay 2006 (Mevushal)
Appelation: Vin de Pays de Jardin de la France (Jardin de la France is the now discontinued name for grapes from the all over the Loire valley)
Varietal: Chardonnay
ABV: 13%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $10
Notes:
Looks: light gold, darker than I expected
Nose: As soon as I smelled this wine, I wanted to smell it again. If you know me and my love of smells, you may know that this is not necessarily a compliment. It’s not in this case. It smells like a mix of straw and rotten banana peel. There are some cereal notes mixed in there. It reminds me of a barnyard, but not in a {brettanomyces} kind of way. I don’t know what to say.
Palate: Wow. I have never tasted a wine like this. The more I taste it (and spit it) the more it reminds me of beer. Ever taken a brewery tour? Think of the smell of the brewery, then think of licking the floor next to a wort tank. Also, pretty acidic. After a bit in the mouth it does start tasting like chardonnay, but it’s too little, too late. Medium length of finish, but I kind of want it to go away. A nice way to describe this wine would be “rustic.” A better way would be “awful.”

Normally, to remain kosher, kosher wines must be handled by Sabbath-observant Jews (a full list of things that render wine kosher can be found here.) However, if wine is heated, the holy beverage is considered changed from sacramental wine and therefore is still kosher even if handled by a non-Jew. Today, mevushal is the process of flash-pasteurizing wine to render it kosher. My first guess is that this heating process has affected the aromas and flavors in this wine. Oh and PS, plastic cork?

Rating: half a cork halfcork for providing a unique experience, but not one I’m keen to repeat.

Baron Herzog White Zinfandel 2007 (Mevushal)
(Oy, vey! First Manischewitz and now a white zinfandel? I’ll probably get LOLed off the internets!)
Appelation: California
Varietal: Zinfandel ({rosé} style)
ABV: 11%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $9
Notes:
Looks: Interesting color: between rosy pink and copper.
Nose: Here, I don’t get much of anything on the nose at first, a welcome surprise given the last two wines. Some generic, wine-like aromas, light floral and and apricot, but nothing too earth-shattering.
Palate: Fresh acidity, not too much sweetness. Strawberry. Not too complex, but hey, for $9 it’s not bad. Dry for the most part. I’m not sure I could pick this out as mevushal compared with similarly priced white zinfandels.
Rating: 2.5 corks corkcorkcork for a light, refreshing offering.

And now, the wild card. Originally produced by the Mogen David (shield of David aka Star of David) winery in New York state, this sweet fortified wine quickly became the darling of college students and down-on-their-luck city dwellers. Technically, it’s not kosher, but let’s give it a shot.

A challenger appears...

A challenger appears...

MD 20/20 Red Grape Wine
Appelation: none, in fact there is practically nothing but the name, government warning, alcohol %age, and “Serve cold” on the label.
Varietal: none listed
ABV: 13%
RS: N/A
Price Point: $5 (probably collegetown price gouging)
Notes:
Looks: Translucent dark red, very similar to Manischewitz
Nose: Well, it’s not on the label, but concord has got to be in here too. Solventy, somewhat medicinal I don’t get alcohol on the nose, per se, but I’m reminded of port. Not {oxidative} character, but the brandy that’s added.
Palate: Sweet, but not quite as obnoxious about it as Manischewitz. The balancing factor for the sweetness here is not acidity but alcohol. I can only imagine what the original 18% is like. Bit of bitteress and alcohol burn on the finish. Again, they’re not going for complexity here. They’re looking for that abstract quality known to Bud Light consumers as “drinkability”. And hey, if you like concord grapes/wines, this stuff is not complete rotgut. This wine used to be fortified to 18%, and you can still find it at that high level in some places. Again, not a good wine, but not the world’s worst beverage. I can see lots of potential for getting creative with this and/or Manischewitz in the sangria area.

Rating: 1.5 corks corkcork for a cheap buzz.


Overall my kosher wine experience was surprising.  The cheapos fared pretty nicely, though admittedly I had low expectations.  From the more expensive bottles, a decent one and a terrible one.  Again, maybe that was a bad bottle, but I have tasted and observed many different wine faults in classes and real life, and I don’t think that aroma would vary bottle to bottle.  I guess the lesson here is not to give in to wine snobbery.   If people tell you a particular wine is no good, you don’t have to believe them!  And hey, if you buy some Manischewitz and you don’t like it, you’re only out $6, and you can make jelly out of it.  To kosher wines, L’chaim! As for the Sodom and Gomorrah analogy, I’d say that while one of these deserves smiting, it’s not worth pouring fire and brimstone over an entire category of wines.

*Science!

Foxy wine, I'm cominna GITCHA!

Foxy wine, I'm cominna GITCHA!

The “foxy” aroma I referred to, characteristic of concord, Niagara, and other labrusca-type ad {hybrid} varietals, is the smell of methyl anthranilate. {Vinifera} grapes generally lack the enzyme alcohol acyltransferase, which synthesizes this molecule. It is thought to attract animals to eat berries and (some time later) spread the seeds around. Why is it called foxy? This is the subject of much debate, covered in detail in “A History of Wine in America”, which you can peruse here.

Ref: Wang and De Luca, “The biosynthesis and regulation of biosynthesis of Concord grape fruit esters, including ‘foxy’ methylanthranilate”, The Plant Journal, 2005.

Published in: on 15 April 2009 at 5:16 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The last few years have shown a sharp improvement in Kosher for Passover wines! I’ve got a bottle of the Herzog Chardonnay for tonight, but had a very good Tishbi Sauvignon Blanc on Monday with friends, and an excellent red whose bottle I’ll have to go look at to remind me what it was.

  2. Love the name of your blog.
    Read this Newsweek article, very interesting. It’s a shame they may lose the ability to grow grapes in this region one day.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/140464

  3. thanks! there is actually a link to the article in my post. i think that links are not that visible with this wordpress theme. maybe i should change that. nice blog, too.

  4. Right you are…sure enough the link was there when I wiggled my mouse around🙂
    Keep up the great posts.

  5. Dude…you drank MD 20/20! That takes me right back to Allegheny College in NW Pennsylvania, where a couple bottles would be my companion for the evening. Those were the first “wines” I ever drank for real.

    If you can call them wine.

    Thanks for joining the WBW fray by the way…great to have you on board!

  6. concord grape, widely planted in new york state, is one of the most heavily scented, reeking of something closer to animal fur than fruit, flowers, or any other aroma associated with fine wine, although the ‘candy’-like aroma is, incidentally, quite close to that of the tiny wild strawberry or fraise des bois. It has long been considered that the juice component responsible is methyl anthranilate, but now there is another contender, o-amino acetophenone. source JANCIS ROBINSON OCW 3 RD EDITION

  7. […] eye. We anglophones have “Wine Blogging Wednesday“, in which I have participated twice so far. Francophones, on the other hand, have “Vendredi du Vin”, or “Wine […]

  8. […] this grape is only 20% labrusca and (at least in this case) produces little to no labrusca foxiness (not that foxy is entirely a bad thing). It’s often used in the Finger Lakes as a blender […]

  9. […] increase with increasing ripeness. Perhaps the enzyme that synthesizes the foxy aroma compound methyl anthranilate increases with ripening time. That enzyme only been recently discovered, and looking at the […]


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