Let me tell you a secret: Passover is not my favorite holiday. My grandmother’s matzo balls, though well-seasoned, were about as soft and pliant as hockey pucks, and each early spring, when my father picked me up in my Queens apartment and cursed the traffic battle waged on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway south over the Verrazzano, where we headed to central New Jersey to visit my meshuggeneh family and indulge in Wegman’s-bought haroset, I felt less a feeling of kismet and more a feeling of… well, you get the picture.
One thing my father did teach me, though, was never to trust the people hosting the Seder. (This advice stems, in all likelihood from life experience: during one Seder, my grandmother made us reenact the parting of the Red Sea by playing characters from Egypt, the likenesses of historical figures sketched on cardboard and affixed to Popsicle sticks; I was, predictably, a sheep.) Applied to wine, this advice became something else entirely. Always bring your own: That was our daddy-daughter code. My father didn’t mind dispensing with tradition, and he was known to wander out of the kosher section toward, say, a Cos d’Estournel, if the spirit moved him. This sommelier-in-training certainly wasn’t registering any complaints.
These days, though, the field of kosher wine is much improved and one need not consider Manischewitz (sorry, Grandma) the only serious contender when the brisket’s ready to hit the table. Seven days is a long time to go without bread, so here’s to making the best of it with some of our finest kosher selections that will complement even the most sophisticated of Passover Seders. My persnickety father, whom I happily take after, would be proud.
Bartenura Prosecco, NV (Mevushal, Kosher for Passover)
More people should start the dining part of Passover with sparkling wine. What cuts through the unctuous fat of gefilte fish better than a crisp, high-acid sparkler? This wine is bone-dry, with a creamy finish and the expected notes of stone fruits on the back palate, which make it an obvious choice for fish dishes—even the ones sitting lifeless in aspic. Gefilte away.
Alfasi Chardonnay, Chile, 2012 (Mevushal, Kosher for Passover)
This Chilean Chardonnay is full and rich, the perfect mid-course wine. Matzo ball soup-eaters might consider this a pairing made in heaven, between the buttery notes of this wine and the delicate schmaltz from the balls (assuming they aren’t as tough as my grandmother’s). Notes of honey, butter, and toast abound, and this wine is rich enough to carry through to a main course, for Seder-attendees who prefer to stick with white.
Psagot Merlot, Judean Hills, Israel, 2010 (Kosher for Passover)
Raspberries and black licorice come across on the palate of this complex and rich red that will bring out the secondary notes of even the most pedestrian brisket. Although New World in style with loads of fruit in the foreground, this wine will please a wide variety of wine drinkers. Consider it the diplomatic choice and the one that Moses may have gone with.
Carmel “Shaal” Late-Harvest Gewürztraminer, Upper Galilee, 2009 (375 ml., Kosher for Passover)
Who says you can’t finish Passover with something sticky (and I don’t mean those weird fruit slices that every Jewish kid associates with the Seder “dessert”)? Passover desserts are always a perennial disappointment, but this wine is not. Teeming with lychee, orange blossom, and baked apricot, this wine is clean on the finish, thanks to a healthy dose of acid; it’s sweet, but not cloying. And since this wine is from the Upper Galilee region of Israel, you can raise a glass to Elijah, say, “To next year in Israel!” and really mean it this time.