It was below 32° when I got out of the subway to do a tasting at Whole Foods UWS yesterday – I didn’t even use ice packs in my wine bag for the white and rosé wines. I was glad to get inside the store to warm up, but my body froze again when I realized that there was a scheduling error. A klezmer band and three kosher wine companies were setting up for a tasting on the last day of Hanukkah.
Melanie, the store manager, said I could stay and pour, it would be fun. And it was! Meet the band: Leon Gruenbaum on keyboards and clarinet, Adam Bernstein on bass and vocals, and Ava Farber on vocals and rhythm ring. They played some Yiddish tunes, some pop, and led up to … Hava Nagila. In an instant, WF customers were holding hands and dancing the hora through the aisles.
My new Israeli friend, Naamah, who was pouring next to me, was tapping her feet to the music and offered me a taste of Barkan Cabernet. She said it was in the 80s in Israel and asked how we could bear the cold in NY. (Oh, we love the contrast of the four seasons!) I asked her how they could grow wine grapes in Israel when it’s so warm. The answer: by planting in high-altitude vineyards. Barkan Cabernet is grown in the Golan Heights, and I loved its full-body, rich dark berry aromas and spicy finish. I also enjoyed Tishbi Estate Pinot Noir, from vineyards in the Judean Hills, with lush red berry aromas and a velvety mouthfeel.
So what is kosher wine? “It is fit and proper” according to kosher dietary law. The grapes and resulting wine must be vinified by observant Jews, using 100% kosher materials, including tools and equipment used only for kosher winemaking. If the wine is pasteurized (cooked), these restrictions are relaxed. The kosher Israeli wines that I tried last night, made from vinifera vines, are a world apart from the sweet Concord grape wines that I’ve had in New York. At least 180°.