Is Kosher wine being passed over?

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal's Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

From left to right: Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012 and Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010

Passover is the hardest working holiday in Jew business. Trust me, I know. Having spent 20 years cooking professionally for the eight-day week commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, I know the trials, tribulations and strict adherence that must be followed to satisfy the Jewish soul. I have also followed the Kosher for Passover wine evolution for equally as long. I have spent time deliberating about the feast without yeast. It’s a fascinating study.

In 2012 I noted that “recommending wines that are Kosher for Passover used to be similarly daunting, (a science and an art unto itself), but the field has certainly improved.

Related – KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

In 2013, optimism increased and I wrote, “a Jew’s worst, ’11th plague’ wine nightmare, the nights of suffering through cooked and stewed dry table wines, is (mostly) a thing of the past. I’m not suggesting that the golden age is upon us, but you may want to don the shades. The future is bright for Passover Kosher wine.”

The rules for Passover wines begin with the basic tenets. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are Kosher, but not all Kosher wines are Kosher for Passover. Kosher for Passover wine must be handled by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews and the wine can never come into contact with any leavening (grain, dough, bread) products, including yeast.” For the full story, read on.

Related – New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

In 2014 I spent more time taking about the individual’s choice on how they go about observing the laws of Passover. Passover wine is particularly specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Mevushal. A Conservative may only drink Mevushal but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Mevushal KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.” In last year’s post I discussed the recent trend towards bigger and bolder Passover reds, so read on.

Related – Passover that big glass of red

In the 2013 column I made five recommendations for the Passover table from a longer list laid out for tasting by the LCBO. At least eight were offered (and I seem to remember more, spread across more than one VINTAGES release). At that time the press release made mention “of the 33 seasonal products being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES in time for Passover, 26 are new listings, featuring traditional kosher wines, fortified wines, dessert wines and sparkling wines.” Thirty-three? Impressive number.

In 2014, the LCBO release said this. “In time for Passover, which begins on April 14, the LCBO is adding 27 seasonal releases to an already diverse selection of kosher products. In addition to the approximately 40 kosher products available throughout the year, a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through the LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The number presented in the tasting lab for media and product consultants was down from 2013, but still a solid set of wines to try. Things were looking up again.

The eve of Passover and first Seder night is only a week away and yet the 2015 press release from the LCBO came out just yesterday. Preparing for the Passover festival, dinner and eight days of transforming homes into Kosher safe houses takes weeks of forethought. That includes buying wine. I can think of no reason why the press release could not have been prepared a week earlier. It would have been helpful to many.

For those who need to know, varied quantities of Kosher products are available in more than 500 LCBO stores across the province, with the largest selection available at three GTA stores: 180 Promenade Circle (Promenade Mall) in Thornhill, 1838 Avenue Road (south of Wilson Avenue) and 675 Wilson Avenue in North York.

There are 42 wines labeled Kosher for Passover on the current inventory list from the LCBO’s website. Some are older releases and so low in stock that they don’t really count at all. The true number is more like 30. The March 26th press release notes that 43 products are available year round and that “a mixture of new listings and familiar favorites is being released through LCBO and VINTAGES to coincide with Passover.” The marketing department is not hiding anything. Transparency is not the issue. That only five wines were purchased and presented to product consultants and media in time for in store consumer consultation, as well as print and online Passover promotion, is curious to say the least. All five offerings are from the Galilee. What about the Judean Hills, Samson, the Negev and Shomron? Azureau Wine Agency has at least four or five quality wines available for Passover not currently in the LCBO coffers and yet they are all wines that had been purchased in the past. Why the snub?

Why has the pursuit of quality and quantity in Passover wine decreased instead of the opposite? Despite the growth worldwide and the dramatic increases in global quality and Passover wine sales, might it be that the LCBO has decided to drop the ball? Perhaps the feeling is that Passover wine was a trend whose time has come and gone.

So I asked some questions and the LCBO was very gracious to send me a list of all the Kosher products that were purchased and subsequently released in the past two months, in preparation for Passover. Seeing the list certainly shows that more credit is deserved for the support for the niche but three questions persisted to nag at me. I pointed out to the representative in charge of Kosher wines how the list notes products released on various dates which coincided with VINTAGES releases. Then I asked if there was there a reason why only the March 21st Israeli release items were presented to media and PC’s and also and how was the public informed of these releases?

It was explained that “the Kosher program is more akin to LCBO categories.  It’s not really part of the VINTAGES brand. Some of theses (Kosher) auxiliary purchases are only 30 to 40 cases with direct distribution to locations with major kosher kiosks. Customers who shop the kosher section in stores like Promenade in Thornhill or the Wilson and Dufferin location basically discover new products among the regulars while shopping in-store.” The idea is that only the five Israeli Kosher wines are marketed because they are “for wine lovers whether they keep kosher or not.” I have heard that point of view before. It’s wishful thinking. Show me a wine lover who buys Kosher wine at the LCBO but does not keep Kosher and I’ll show you a wine lover who eats nothing but stew. If higher quality wines were on offer, the philosophy might strike a more believable accord.

The end result of my interaction with the LCBO rep. was a suggestion that they might consider organizing a media tasting for more of the Kosher portfolio. Despite the extreme niche market that is KFP wines, the idea makes sense considering the size of Ontario’s (and especially Toronto’s) Jewish community and the amount of those types of wines that are purchased every year. A tasting would make even more sense if it involved any of the hundreds of high quality Kosher wines that are never seen in this market but are so prevalent in a place like New York State.

I spoke yesterday with a former Ontario agent who at one time was a leading importer of Israeli wines. Many of the wineries represented through his portfolio are no longer on LCBO shelves. Why is that I asked him? The answer is that the wines were too expensive for the LCBO and they gave up wanting to take the risk of trying to sell them. After Passover comes and goes, left over stock means for product that won’t move.

Selling quality KFP wines is now left to a handful of sacramental agents like Mazel Wines and Simcha Wines. Though they are required to sell by the case (like every other Ontario importer), the other eye is turned at the practice of selling single bottles. Why? Because they pose no threat to LCBO sales. Their customers are walking away with product the LCBO has no interest in selling. The wines in question are those the LCBO would rather not touch. They have washed their hands of the $40+ Kosher market and never had a true vested interest in Kedem and Manischewitz in the first place.

It is understood that buyers change and also that Israeli stubbornness translates to no offer of discounts, even to the world’s largest wine buyer. Quality wines from Eretz are no longer coming to Ontario and no one seems to really care. If there is no mandate to buy them, no one will. It’s quite simple. Yet in recent years it seemed as though the LCBO cared more about a certain level of quality in the KFP niche. In 2015, these wines are out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe part of the problem is the lack of Kosher wine production in Canada. If wineries and consumers across the country are not interested, why should anyone else bother?

There have been some informative Kosher wine investigations in Canada, though certainly few and far between. Brock University hosted Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, a Rabbinic Coordinator with the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union for his presentation, “Demystifying Kosher Winemaking” on Monday, Dec. 12, 2012.

This time last year Mark Mietkiewicz of the Canadian Jewish News discussed the “eclectic tour of kosher wineries.” Mietkiewicz noted that sadly, (if not entirely accurate), the only true Kosher winery across Canada is located in Newfoundland. “You’ll have to travel about hour west of St. John’s until you reach Rodrigues Winery of Markland, Nfld. There, you’ll find its certified kosher blueberry, plum, cranberry and other fruit wines, liqueurs and brandies.” Rodrigues is represented in Ontario by Amethyst Wines Agency.

The best source for Canadian Kosher wines can be found on the Wines of Canada website. Two wineries in Ontario had joined Rodriguez in Kosher wine production, albeit with fruit and honey. They are Rush Creek and Munro Meadery. Rush Creek has changed ownership, however, and it seems that Kosher is no longer on the table. Munro continues with their COR certification. In Quebec, Domaine Pinnacle produces a Kosher Iced Cider. In British Columbia, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, while not Kosher, does produce a Kosher wine. It’s an uncooked $100 Tiferet.

Here are the five wines presented for evaluation by the LCBO. None really qualify as exceptional but all will work with distinction at the Seder table.

Hermon Mount Hermon White Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (611327, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

While this pseudonymous John Doe white varietal blend may not quite effect the idea of “puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man from-a Galilee,” it does offer an ocean of somewhat descriptive aromas to elicit a sip. Quite lactic, creamy and nondescript in terms of flavours. Well-made, though the guess at varietal make-up (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier…) doesn’t really matter. There is a capsicum bite and a grassy chew. So when all is said and done, it’s got “enough of what it takes to get you through.” Drink 2015-2017  Tasted March 2015

Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon Kp 2013, Galilee, Israel (283838, $20.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Not to be confused with Oregon’s volcanic cinder cone, the city park on the volcano, and the neighborhood of Southeast Portland. This “small drum” (from the Latin), in consideration of its proximity to the cradle of civilization should constitute it being the original Mount Tabor. Tabor the mountain is situated on the border of Zebulun and Issachar, south-west of the Sea of Galilee (Joshua 19:22). There is no Hebrew word for the name Tabor but the likely etymology is from the verb ברר (barar), meaning to purge, purify or clean. So, what about the Cabernet Sauvignon? Another extreme and extracted expression from red fruit, with leather and rich blackberries atop Ugah Kushit. Some may count rubber reduction while others will simply feel the heat. The tannin and overall structure remind of Graves in a hot vintage. A funky green streak, like tea mixed with tobacco are part of the complexity, then more tobacco and more than decent length. This is a good choice for the shank and the rack. Drink 2015-2018.  @TaborWinery  @azureau

Segal’s Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon Kp M 2011, Galilee Heights,  Israel (157206, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Red gelid fruits are floating with viscous separation in simple syrup and oozing to the perimeter. That outer circle is bricking to caramel. Hanging on, but just barely.

From my earlier note of March 2013: Though muted is quite pleasant, aromatically speaking. Baking spice, woodsmoke, cherry and plum, like satellite St. Emilion. Scarlet colour, as if derived from Tola’At Shani. Dusty and down-grain, no cooked sensation, well-structured.

Last tasted March 2015.

Galil Mountain Pinot Noir Kp 2012, Galilee, Israel (121228, $22.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

Levity afforded for the sheer reason of ripe fruit. High octane Pinot is never a wise proposition but when the barrel lends spice and not a sheath of layer cake, that’s a positive. A warm west coast California style to be sure, with more than enough lavender cream to grease a squeaky canoli and then the rise of gaseous puddles blown by pipe smoke. Then there are the battling Epping Forests; of cedar and pine. Rich, spicy, smoky and forceful. Very ripe. Overripe and over extracted. Ready for prime time and with tannins that mean business. Just having entered its window of genesis, perhaps it would fare best next year when supper is ready in Jerusalem, “or, today is the day when they sort it out, sort it out.” Call it a draw. “So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score.” Good enough. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted March 2015  @azureau

Tabor Adama Merlot Kp 2010, Galilee, Israel (400820, $26.95, WineAlign) Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal

He’s a wild one this Merlot and has come of age though he’s a bit licentious, carrying a load of liqueur and chewing on liquorice. Ferric and sugary red to black fruit melds with tubers grainy and cooked in a muddy cake with scorched earth buttercream icing. Prunes, figs and raisins are chopped into a mire poix and stuck in the frosting. Caramel time is here. Will work for Brisket. Drink as soon as possible. Drink now.  Tasted March 2015  @TaborWinery

Good to go!

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