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Kosher Wine Doesn’t Have to Suck: We Taste-Tested Israel’s Best Wines

Recanati wine is desperately trying to pass for gentile.

First off, there’s the name. Nothing about "Recanati" sounds particularly Jewish. In fact, it sounds vaguely Italian. (Which doesn’t hurt a wine.) Then there’s the fact that the front label is extremely simple—there is nary a Hebrew letter in sight, only the brand, the vintage, the grape and the region. You have to take a close look at the back to find the kosher stamp. And if you were to call the PR department at Recanati, they would admit that no, they’re not really advertising the fact that they’re kosher.

"We’ve been encouraging wine shops to start an Israeli section," says Michael Wolff, the senior brand manager for the Israeli wine, which is produced in the Galilee. The idea is to get away from the "kosher" label and all its connotations.

Recanati is hardly the only Israeli wine hiding the inconvenient fact that, yes, they’re also kosher. "We don’t really talk about the kosher aspect of our wines," says Marsha Palanci, who does marketing for the Israeli brand Yarden. "We market it as an international wine."

The reasons behind this are of the "duh" variety. Long before brand giant Manischewitz even existed, the words "wretched" and "kosher" were synonyms when it came to wine: Jews have proven themselves utterly maladroit winemakers for literally thousands of years. Not that it was always their fault: Jews rarely had access to grapes, and they oftentimes weren’t allowed to own land. And when the Jews arrived in America, the only grape they had access to was the Concord, which needed to be diluted with sugar—making wines like Manischewitz so sickly sweet.

But there is nothing in the rules of kashrut that makes bad wine inevitable. For a wine to be kosher it needs to either be flash-pasteurized—heated to 90 degrees Celsius—or it needs to be made by Sabbath-observant Jews. Wine experts disagree about whether flash-pasteurization has negative effects on taste (though most believe it does), but regardless, nothing about shomer Shabbat vintners makes for crappy wine.

And given that we’re living in the age of gourmet, where food and drink is as much about status as it is about nourishment and chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud are celebrities known by their first name, it’s only fitting and proper that the moment is ripe for an excellent, upscale kosher wine. Why should Jews be left out? Let the gourmet kosher wine revolution begin.

The last decade has seen signs of just that sort of uprising. Israel, France and California have all been churning out top-notch labels at extremely high prices. California-based Covenant, for example, retails for $110 and can be found on the wine lists at Per Se and French Laundry. Other kosher wines, like Recanati, are as shy about their kosher status but considerably less expensive. To see the revolution in progress, I canvassed a number of wine stores and wine experts and came up with a list of the best wines the kosher world has to offer. Then, for the sake of research, I sampled all of them with a friend.

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