Tonight, around the world Jews will celebrate the holiday of Purim by dressing up in costumes, exchanging baked goods, and getting tipsy. The rabbis tell us it’s a real mitzvah (a good deed) to have a drink or two or three. Who are we to argue?
While Purim may not have the name recognition of Hanukah, Passover or Yom Kippur, the holiday is nonetheless important and commemorates how a young Jewish woman was able to save her Persian community from massacre.
Congregations in most North American synagogues observe by raucously reading (or play-acting) the story. In Israel, the holiday has become pretty much a two-day bacchanalia—costumes, parties, drinking, the works.
So more about the imbibing… At no other time—and maybe with no other religion—does your religious leader encourage you to drink with abandon. And now there is fortunately a wide selection of high-quality kosher wines from around the world.
Traditionally, wine was made kosher by boiling it. The rationale for destroying otherwise perfectly drinkable liquor was to guarantee that the product had not been polluted by prior use in some idolatrous ceremony. This ancient standard has been upheld even into our post-idolatry era of mechanized wine production.
Over the past few decades, however, there has been a growing demand for better kosher wine, which has affected the rules about what makes a wine kosher.
Without getting too technical, you no longer have to boil the wine. The result is a booming international kosher wine industry that produces sophisticated and tasty vino.
And, of course, Israel boasts plenty of vineyards in the Golan Heights and the Judaean Hills. On my first visit to Israel, I was disappointed to be told my hotel only served kosher wine. So I ordered a glass, held my nose and was pleasantly surprised.
Over subsequent visits, I began to explore the country’s wine industry. A perennial favorite is the Domaine du Castel located in the mountains outside of Jerusalem. Castel is said to be the country’s first modern boutique winery, founded in the late 1980s—and is now also considered one of Israel’s finest.
In honor of Purim, here are five kosher Israel wines (three reds and two whites) that are so good you’ll want to pick them up whether or not you celebrate the holiday. L’Chaim!
1. Psagot Edom 2012 ($31)
Located in the Judean Hills north of Jerusalem, this winery was founded in just 2003. The Psagot Edom blend is made up of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Merlot. The full-bodied wine is aged for 14 months in oak barrels.
2. Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($29)
While the Golan Heights may be famous for its military battles, the area has also become the mini-Napa Valley of Israel. (It’s volcanic soil and cool climate are perfect for a vineyard!) Yarden was started in 1976 and now offers a number of excellent wines, including this Cabernet Sauvignon.
3. Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 ($59)
This dry but flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon from the Upper Galilee was my go-to choice on my recent visit to Israel. It’s aged for two years (14 months in flavorful French oak) and is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 percent Merlot, 6 percent Cabernet Franc, and 3 percent Petit Verdot.
4. C Blanc Du Castel 2014 ($43)
I truly love all of Domaine du Castel’s small batch wines—especially their reds, which are the winery’s signature. But this 100 percent Chardonnay is not to be missed. The grapes are aged 12 months in French oak. Serve this to your friends who love California Chardonnay and you’ll knock their socks off.
5. Recanati Special Reserve White 2011 ($49)
I was introduced to Recanati wines by the sommelier of the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem. Recanati’s grapes come primarily from the Galilee. The 2011 Special Reserve is a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay, 25 percent Viognier and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc.
Danielle Crittenden Frum is creative director and CEO of Fig Tree & Vine, an online destination for contemporary Jewish lifestyles and beautiful artisanal products.