“Passover at Herzog wines is like the holiday season at Amazon!” said Kim Roberts, Herzog Wine Club Manager. No wonder this is so, give that everybody who attends the two Seders is commanded to drink four glasses of wine at each. The Seder host will likely prepare a bottle of wine for every four adults. What better proof do we have of our freedom? It is rare that we drink 8 glasses of wine across two consecutive evenings.
Meanwhile, wine sales at Pesach are impacted by the gift giving of wine as a token of appreciation for the Seder hosts. So it’s no wonder that the wine industry expands at this time of year. The numbers are impressive; wine sales make up a substantial part of the $2.5 billion “Kosher for Passover” marketplace in America.
Consumers can be stifled by the choice. The Herzog family is the major producer of American kosher wines and now sells 52 unique bottles of wine with prices ranging from under $10 to $250 a bottle. Flavors range from the sweet Riesling to the rich Cabernet, the lush Syrah, a classic Californian Chardonnay or the floral Chenin Blanc. And there are more. Every year there are new blends on the market and this year, Herzog has introduced the Variations line which is a blend of Californian Cabernet Sauvignons from different appellations and costs $25 a bottle.
The wine industry has come a long way from the days of our grandparent’s kosher wines which were syrupy and heavy. Kosher wines are now of such a high quality that non-kosher wine drinkers are as likely to purchase them. Not only does Israel produce a broad selection, but many options exist in America and from less famous vineyards in Argentina, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia and so on.
Throughout the year, Herzog only produces Kosher for Passover wine, which is common for Kosher wine producers. Wine that is kosher for Passover uses yeast for fermentation from a culture that has not been grown on bread.
For Passover purchases, it is normal to look for low alcohol wines. These often have a lower level of sugar at harvest. Yeast ferments sugar into alcohol, therefore the more ripe the grape, the higher the potential alcohol. In order to increase the sweetness, grape juice may be added; think Manischewitz. Otherwise you can choose a naturally sweet wine like White Zinfandel or Moscato. Traditionally the wine used at the Seder is red, not white and many prefer wine that costs under $20 a bottle, which is simpler to enjoy and takes a less sophisticated palate and budget.
The price of wine is dependent on the source of the grapes. Napa Valley grapes are the most expensive compared to grapes from other California regions. Some high-end wines are fermented in French Oak casks, which substantially influences the final flavor. From tangy and zesty to fruity or spicy, the experience varies broadly.
Grapes for wine making are picked only once a year, in the fall. Kosher vines have to be at least four years old and, in Israel, they are not harvested on the seventh year. In fact, the haggim usually fall in the middle of the wine harvest which creates its own complications.
The Jewish connection to winemaking goes back to the earliest days and Rashi, born in 1040, lived in the French city of Troyes which is in the wine-growing region of Northern France. He was known to have been a successful vintner who grew, manufactured and sold wine. His commentaries show he had, among other things, an immense knowledge of botany and agriculture.
Today, the white wines are bottled before the red wines. This is because many red wine age in oak barrels before being bottled. Certain white wines are also left to flavor in oak barrels and this adds a toasty vanilla flavor. The biggest variant in the taste, however, is due to the variety of grape, the amount of sun and the texture of the earth that grows the fruit, A master sommelier can tell all of this from a sip of the finished wine but even the least experienced drinker can tell whether they like the wine or not. The problem with wine reviews and wine selections is that our selectivity on wine is often as varied as our recipes for charoseth. If you are hosting your Seder, it is crucial that you try the wine before the holiday begins. Alicia Wilbur, Enologist at Herzog Wine Cellars, is quick to remind us, “This is still the ultimate test; do you like it?”