At Zahav, for years one of the city’s most revered restaurants, guests who seek wine suggestions from servers can often end up enjoying kosher wine without ever knowing it. The restaurant’s wine list currently includes 13 varieties of kosher wine from Israel and Palestine, including two sold by the glass.
“I recommend wines that are kosher all the time without selling them that way,” said beverage manager Jeff Bartash. “We want to sell a good wine that pairs well with the food and that guests will enjoy. A lot of them now just happen to be kosher.”
Other customers regularly ask for kosher wine (even though the restaurant is not itself kosher). And the staff always fields more of those requests during holidays, Bartash said, so he always makes sure to keep a few on the menu.
The restaurant is currently pouring glasses of Dalton sauvignon blanc, as well as a mourvedre-Syrah red made by Jacques Capsouto, both of which are from Israel’s Galilee region. The white is kosher for Passover. The red was grown in a fallow year and may be off-limits to some observant Jews.
If it surprises you to find kosher wine at some of the most sought-after tables in town, welcome to the revolution.
More producers in Israel, the United States, and countries including South Africa, Chile, and Germany are making top-notch kosher wine, thanks to advances in technology, a thriving Israeli wine industry, and a growing demand from customers with sophisticated palates, experts say.
“There are better winemaking methods being used across the board,” said Holly Rosum, wine consultant for the Wegmans Wine & Spirits store in Cherry Hill. “It’s easier now to make a fantastic wine than it has ever been, and that has helped kosher winemakers along with everyone else.”
Even a few years ago, the kosher wine section at Rosum’s store made some customers roll their eyes. The store has always offered plenty of kosher choices, she said, but regular shoppers still got used to seeing many of the same varieties and producers.
This year, a third full-length shelf had to be cleared for the store’s largest-ever selection of kosher wine. There are bottles from Italy, California, and France, as well as rosés and four kinds of bubbly.
“There are more available than ever before, but they’re also better than ever,” said Rosum, who last week was preparing for the annual pre-Passover rush on kosher wine. “We’re particularly proud of what we have this year.”
Non-Jews might believe there’s something intrinsically different about kosher wine, Bartash said. But the grapes are the same, and so is the process. The only difference is that ingredients like yeasts have to be certified kosher, and the production and bottling must be overseen by Sabbath-observant Jews, meaning many Jewish winemakers are not able to make kosher wine themselves.
Not all kosher wine is kosher for Passover — that distinction denotes wine that was made without the leavened foods or grains that cannot be eaten during the holiday.
At least half of the bottles for sale at the Wegmans in Cherry Hill are kosher for Passover, Rosum said. The store also stocks plenty of old-school Manischevitz that is kosher for Passover — without the corn syrup that is used to make it in its usual form.
Many other kosher bottles, such as a French Bordeaux, are shelved in regional sections of the store as well as the kosher section, Rosum said.
Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits stores carry more than 100 types of kosher wine and offer many more that can be special-ordered with a little planning.
Five kosher wines to try:
⋅ Peraj Petita Rosat Montsant, $21.99, PLCB Item #74391. A Spanish rosé garnacha blend.
⋅ Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee, $15.99, PLCB Item #44100. An Israeli cabernet similar to a bottle served at Zahav.
⋅ Jacques Capsouto Eva Blanc Cuvee, $19.99, PLCB #74399. A white blend from a pioneer in the Israeli wine movement. Zahav serves the winemaker’s mourvedre-Syrah variety.
⋅ Bartenura Vino Rosso D’Italia, $7.99, PLCB Item #02253. A sangiovese-style red from a popular Italian winemaker.