(via Lettie Teague, Wall Street Journal wine columnist)
With the Passover already upon us, Lettie Teague, wine columnist for New York’s Wall Street Journal, sat down with Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wines to learn about the kosher wine industry in general, and Israeli wines in specific. Some excerpts:
The biggest misunderstanding about kosher wine isn’t that it’s sweet but that it’s somehow “different” from other wines.
Jay Buchsbaum was clarifying a few misconceptions about kosher wines for me, something he does on a regular basis—for both consumers and the trade—as director of education for Bayonne, N.J.-based Royal Wine Corp., the top kosher wine importer, distributor and producer in the U.S. His other title with the company is vice president of marketing.
“Kosher wine is made in precisely the same way as ‘regular’ wine,” said Mr. Buchsbaum over lunch this week at Reserve Cut in the Setai Hotel on Broad Street.
The only difference between certified kosher wine and non-kosher wine, he added, was rabbinical oversight and the handling by Sabbath-observant Jews and “sometimes using isinglass” to fine the kosher wine.
The other big fallacy that Mr. Buchsbaum straightened out was that most Israeli wines are kosher. That was a misconception that I held myself. In fact, only about 20% of Israeli wine brands are certified kosher, according to Mr. Buchsbaum, although over the years he has been working to convince nonkosher Israeli producers to reconsider. (He has managed to convert a few producers over the years, including Domaine du Castel, an estate that initially produced a special kosher cuvée wine in 2002 and became fully kosher the following year.)
Much of that growth has come from increased consumer interest in wines from Israel as well as more restaurants—kosher and nonkosher—adding Israeli wines to their lists. More often that not, they’re simply listed as wines from Israel without an indication of their kosher status, Mr. Buchsbaum said.
What are the best retail sources for kosher wine in New York? I knew that Skyview Wine and Liquors in the Bronx and Gotham Wine & Liquors on Manhattan’s Upper West Side have large selections, but are there others that are good? Mr. Buchsbaum’s response: Any store that doesn’t put its kosher wines “on the bottom shelf in the back near the bathroom,” he joked, adding that the Wine Cave in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood is also a top kosher source. The last time he’d visited that store it was full of “Hasidim and hipsters,” he said.
And for wine drinkers lacking a private cellar? “They should go to their good local merchant—one with a serious selection—not a place where they keep kosher wine near the bathroom,” said Mr. Buchsbaum. “A good merchant will ask them what kind of wine they like to drink. A lot of Passover drinkers aren’t kosher the rest of the year.”
Does the selection for Passover have to be a red? It seemed to me that people preferred to serve red wine at the Passover dinner. “There’s a rabbinic opinion that red wine is the right wine because it’s the same wine that Jews used during the Seder after they escaped Egypt,” Mr. Buchsbaum replied. “The minor opinion is that it doesn’t matter—you should drink what you like most.”
Thanks to Jay and Lettie for shining a light on the quality wines- kosher and non-kosher- hitting New York shelves this holiday season. Whatever your reason for celebrating, “startup nation” has the spirit to get the party started right.
For more information about award-winning wines from Israel, contact Hanna at the Israel Economic Mission in NYC.