Ever since Noah alighted from the boat and planted a vine, Jews have had a continuous relationship to wine. Throughout the ages, that link has been reinforced with every circumcision, wedding and the many celebrations in between.
To celebrate that connection, Royal Wine Corp. hosted a "Kosher Food-and-Wine Experience" on Feb. 26 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. It marked a celebration of just how far kosher wine has come. And a long journey it's been.
The sweet and syrupy concoctions of yesteryear are but a distant memory. Today's generation is infinitely more demanding and discerning in their palate. People have become educated and increasingly aware of sophisticated virtuoso wines. Not all of them are dry, either.
Having wandered in the proverbial desert, the Children of Israel have earned a soaring reputation in the industry, and are now entering the Promised Land of wine appreciation. This became very apparent as 500 people, including media, traversed the room, tasting more than 200 available wines.
With each winemaker comes a story. Take Capacanes, for instance. Jurgens Wagner came to Spain from Germany, and after marrying a Spanish girl, he set about addressing the needs of Barcelona's local Jewish community seeking a locally produced kosher wine. Keen on taking up the challenge, while sacrificing nothing in quality, Wagner recruited a co-op of 80 Catholic farmers to provide the vineyards to make the wine, which they would call "Peraj Haabib" — Hebrew for Flors de Primavera ("spring blossom"). It was such an outright quality success that the winemaker went on to produce nonkosher versions for the general market.
And then there are the Greengrass brothers, who inherited their winery near Tel Stone, in the lofty Judean hills, from their father. They have handcrafted their winemaking to widespread praise from connoisseurs and consumers alike.
Close by to the entrance into Jerusalem is a burgeoning winery called Castel (named after the steep incline ascending toward the capital, and remembered for a terrible battle that took place there during the War of Independence).
Binyamina is a prime example of a re-energized ancient wine region that's transformed into the 21st century. Its latest Yogev series pays tribute to the Israeli farmer who toiled the land in years past, enabling the fruits to be realized today. From the Golan (at 2,500-foot elevations) to the Negev and the Dead Sea (the lowest place on Earth), the region takes but a few short hours to traverse. Israel's mixed climates and varying soils have enabled it to join with the illustrious ranks of prestige winemakers.
Psagot was another boutique winery notching up successes, as was Ramim, famous for their Dessert Rose. The most popular attention for French wine was heaped on Christian Dalbavie of the Chateau Valandraud house of wine. Maybe it was a harder challenge for domestic kosher wines that could not conjure up the romance of Europe or the Mideast.
But winemaker Jo Hurliman, with his customary poise and flair, was not fazed by any of this. It soon became quite clear why, as participants gushed with praise at the winemaker for his Herzog and Baron Herzog lines. Hurliman explained how he was not content to rest on his laurels and promised even better vintages to come.
Also at the event, gourmet food was offered by TV chef Jeff Nathan of the highly regarded New York kosher restaurant Abigaels.
A highlight of the evening was Nahum Segal, who auctioned off for charity several rare wines from the Herzog Collection. Even he was surprised as interested wine-lovers bid up to $1,000 for rare 1994 Herzog selections. Segal broadcast his radio show live by remote, so that even those who could not get tickets were treated to an audio-insight into the evening.
The event is geared to take place annually.
To learn more about the wines or the event, call 718-534-0172 or e-mail: MDavidson@royalwines.com.