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Must-Try Wine of Week: 2011 Golan Heights YARDEN Galilee Israel Chardonnay

Wine plays an important role in Jewish holidays, especially the Passover Seder where all present must drink four cups of wine (or grape juice). Here are a few facts you might not know about kosher wines, plus my recommendation for a good kosher chardonnay.

  • The word “kosher” means “proper” or “correct.
  • Kosher wines are produced according to Jewish dietary laws.
  • A Jewish, Sabbath-observant crew must make kosher wines, and only rabbinical supervisors (Mashgichim) can touch or handle the wines from grape crush to bottling.
  • Kosher wines do not have to be blessed by rabbis, but they must have the hechsher (“seal of approval”) of a kosher supervising organization or a rabbi or a beth din (Jewish religious court of law).
  • Kosher wine laws are the oldest winemaking laws in the world.
  • Kosher wines may not contain any animal products. Only bentonite, a clay material, may be used to clarify them.
  • All winemaking equipment must be thoroughly cleaned. Tanks, crushers, presses and all equipment must be cleaned three times before use each harvest by modern kosher steam cleaning.
  • All barrels must be new or used only for kosher wines.
  • There are two levels of kosher wines: those made by normal winemaking processes and the second, known as “Mevushal,” in which the must is heat-pasteurized and cooled down quickly before fermentation and winemaking are completed(?). A Mevushal wine has religious purity no matter who opens, pours, or drinks the wine. It’s difficult to consistently taste the difference between Mevushal and non-Mevushal wines.
  • Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover” must have been kept free from contact with grain, bread, and dough.

Golan Heights Winery is considered Israel’s leading winery. Thirty percent of its wines are exported to 32 countries. The head winemaker is Victor Schoenfeld, a Southern California native and graduate of University of California at Davis. Founded in 1983, the winery has 29 vineyards, grows 21 varieties of grapes, and employs five winemakers. It has won 58 international gold medal wine awards, and is a 2012 Wine Enthusiast Magazine New World Winery of the Year.

Golan Heights wines are produced under four brands: Yarden (the premier label and flagship brand, which contains the finest grapes from the best vineyards), Gamia, Mount Hermon, and Golan. “Yarden” is Hebrew for Jordan River, which bisects the Golan Heights from Galilee. The label features an oil lamp decorated with mosaic tile, a symbol of ancient Israel.

The Yarden chardonnay is produced exclusively from fruit grown in the volcanic soils of the northern Golan Heights, Israel’s coldest winegrowing area. It’s fermented and aged for seven months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. It is Kosher Lamehadrin (“Kosher for Passover”), not “Mevushal.”

The wine exhibits inviting aromas of lemon zest, quince, and pear, with accents of toasty oak. It’s quite flavorful, with notes of lemon curd, pineapple, pear, and buttery oak. Slightly creamy in texture, with good richness, this medium-bodied wine finishes with a refreshing note of citrus-driven acidity, and is a good match for roasted chicken, pan–seared scallops, or pasta alfredo.

It retails for about $20, and is available at hitime.net, totalwine.com, gelsons.com, Gelson’s Markets, and kosher specialty stores in Orange County, as well as a variety of online retailers.

Another very good Golan Heights Winery choice is the 2012 Moscato Galilee, which tastes like a luscious, juicy, perfectly ripened peach. With only 7 percent alcohol, it is ideal as a chilled aperitif or dessert wine.

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