What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of kosher wine? It may be the square-bottled screw-capped, and syrupy-sweet Manischewitz. Or it could even be a shockingly pink, grapefruit flavored "wine" in a bottle labeled MD 20/20, lovingly referred to as MadDog at your local frat house -- which isn't exactly kosher itself, but is made by an otherwise-kosher company. This is unfortunately the perception most people have of Kosher wine, if they have any idea of what kosher wine is at all. Luckily, there is in truth quite a selection of fine wines available that meet kosher standards, and some are produced as close as Oxnard.
But before focusing on the specifics, let me explain what differentiates kosher wine from that which is conventionally produced. There are three categories of kosher wine but all must meet at least the following criteria. From harvest to bottling, only Sabbath-observant male Jews are allowed to work on the wines. Also, no animal products may be used for fining or filtration, all the winemaking tools and storage facilities must be kosher and barrels must be cleaned three times. Following these restrictions the wine is kosher, but it can only be served by observant Jews. If the wine is to be poured in a restaurant environment where the waiter may not be Jewish, the wine needs to be mevushal. Wines are made mevushal by undergoing pasteurization, which can give the wine a cooked or stewed fruit flavor. So while this process makes the wines easier to serve, it may make them harder to drink. The third category is kosher for Passover, which means that the wine must be made from a yeast that has not been cultivated or grown on bread.
Given the small percentage of such wines that are produced, there are even fewer that can compete with the highest quality conventionally produced wines. Enter Baron Herzog. Located just north of Los Angeles in Oxnard, the Herzog family has a long history making fine wine, and is the largest producer of kosher wine in the U.S.
At Herzog, winemaker Joe Hurliman crafts wines from the pedigree vineyards of Chalk Hill and To Kalon, as well as select sites in Edna Valley and Paso Robles. The 2008 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect entry into this family of wines. The wine is aged in stainless steel to preserve its fresh fruit quality. On the palate, spicy blackberry is framed by soft tannins and just enough acidity. This wine provides a glimpse into what the high end offerings of Baron Herzog deliver. The wines of Herzog are a wonderful example of working within stricter guidelines than most and still producing wines of great quality.
2008 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, retails about $11.
Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.
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