What to Drink to Survive Passover: A Field Guide

Celiac-sufferers and Gluten-Free Fakers, rejoice. Your time is nigh. That hallowed time of year when old, Jewish kitchens get covered in foil and someone’s grandmother burns a match in the cupboards to rid the world of all things bread is almost upon us. It’s enough to make a marathon runner (you’re looking at her) run screaming from the room in terror.

But all is not lost. If you have to give up that challah/bagel/late-night slice in favor of cardboard-dressed-up-as-bread (you know it better as matzoh), that does not mean that all wine must turn to water. For your upcoming Seder, don’t do as my grandmother does, and rely on peach Schnapps and a dusty old bottle of Manischewitz for your Kosher party fare. (Sorry, Grandma—I love you, but not those 60s-era bottles you call “alcohol.”) Rely, instead, on the New Guard of Kosher for Passover wines and spirits. Read on.

If you’re wondering what the perfect pairing is for my (and your) Aunt Sandi’s Pesach chopped liver, well, it’s a question I’ve been asking myself for 35 years. But I think I finally have the answer, and it came in the form of Don Draper. With the final half of the final season of Mad Men due to premiere on April 5, two days into Passover, I started thinking about why no one is ever walking around with a martini at any of the Passover gatherings I attend. Was there even such a thing as Kosher for Passover gin?

I might have to give up bread for a week, but here’s what: I don’t have to give up martinis, because the Distillery 209 Gin is Kosher for Passover, so I can make like Don Draper and walk nonchalantly around this year’s Seder like a 1950s Mad Woman without a carb-denied care in the world. And the seas were parted. And life was good.

If I’m feeling particularly Mad Woman-y, I can splurge on a bottle to keep in my cellar for decades to come, because sometimes you have to go a little overboard. Next to my 1982 Bordeauxs, I can nestle the particularly rare and precious Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2011, from a 15 hectare estate in West Jerusalem. This bottle isn’t for drinking now (and it’s certainly not for the faint of wallet), but it should be ready as a showstopper around the time that Elijah shows up at your Seder, so consider it a worthwhile investment property for future Draper-esque endeavors.

Well, a girl can dream. A more down-to-earth version of du Castel’s Bordeaux blend comes courtesy of the renowned Rothschild family, who makes the Kosher Barons de Rothschild 2012  from Bordeaux’s Haut-Médoc with a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s not nearly as wallet-draining as the collectible Domaine du Castel Grand Vin, but the Barons de Rothschild will still impress guests and can hold up to that fatty brisket that I’m sure your Aunt Sandi will also be serving. Even more affordable—and equally enjoyable—is the Ramon Cardova Rioja 2013, a ripe, tannic, and earthy wine that won’t disappoint if you’re just looking for something to get you through a night of bitter herbs and bitter family (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about).

For the token white wine drinker at every gathering who complains about how long it takes to get to the haroset and matzoh ball soup (for lack of a better name, I’ll call her Unidentified Stepmother), well, fear not. There are wines for her, too. I err on the side of lean, crisp wines with heart for the rich fare put forth at Passover. Near to my heart is the 2013 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc —a choice that’s impacted, I’m sure, by the fact that I just got back from this endlessly surprising and lovely country myself. This grassy, clean, and herbal wine makes the perfect companion to chicken fat, no matter how much of it your relatives manage to jam into their matzoh balls. And its clean, pleasant finish makes it a far better dessert than flourless babka or gummy fruit slices. Anyway, after a night spent with family, you might need an extra glass, two, or three to take the edge off. I guess you and the Unidentified Stepmother have that in common.