For most non-observant American Jews, kosher wine is an elusive unicorn hunted twice each year: at Passover and during the High Holydays. Wine writer Jeff Morgan fell safely into the non-observant category (his family had Christmas trees when he was a child). When he attended a winemaking conference in Napa in 2002, the scarcity of good kosher wine came up, and it intrigued Morgan. In fact, it inspired in him the desire to produce the best kosher wine in the world.
That quest gave birth to Covenant Wines in Napa, founded in partnership with the late vintner Leslie Rudd. Covenant became a successful brand with a cult following, but it also sparked a desire within Morgan to reconnect with his spiritual roots. During a visit to Israel he tasted a Domaine du Castel Grand Vin from the Judean Hills, and it revolutionized his thinking. If he could make kosher wine in Napa, why not do the same in Israel?
Three of Covenant Israel’s wines are now available in the United States. Are they the world’s greatest kosher wines, as Morgan had hoped? Unless you’ve tasted every kosher wine in existence, it’s impossible to say for sure, but they are certainly elegant, well-crafted, and—as they say in Yiddish—geschmak (delicious).
Covenant Israel Blue C Viognier 2017 ($30) is sourced from the Manara vineyard in Galilee and produced with minimal intervention (native yeast, neutral barrels). The nose yields whiffs of vanilla and exotic citrus. The wine is bright and fresh in the mouth, with better-than-expected acidity for the grape variety. That acidity helps balance the lush and almost unctuous texture, not to mention the hint of sweetness that emerges on the finish.
Covenant Israel Blue C Red Wine 2016 ($40) is an unspecified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, made from grapes grown in the Tel Faris vineyard in the Golan Heights. It has an opaque purple color and a nose fragrant with hints of black pepper, anise and mint. It’s ripe and forward in the mouth, with prickly fruit tannins and flavors of blackberry, mocha and black plum. The mid palate is spicy and the peppery edge carries over to the finish, where it mingles with smoke and black fruits.
Covenant Israel Syrah 2016 ($75) is the fourth vintage of what Morgan calls “Israel’s varietal.” It was sourced from the same Golan Heights vineyard as the Blue C Red Wine Blend and vinified with the same hands-off treatment as the other Covenant wines. A dense purple/black color is followed by a rich nose redolent with blackberry jam, bacon fat and black pepper. The wine delivers all its expected intensity in the mouth: stiff tannins frame an expansive texture crammed with flavors of ripe black fruits and spice. The finish is long and succulent. Drink this by the fire with a good steak or rack of lamb, and you just might reconnect with your own spiritual roots.
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is available on amazon.com; his second novel, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is due out in Spring 2019.