The Passover seder is structured around drinking four cups of wine. For decades this meant the ceremonial meal was punctuated by sips of the syrupy concord grape based Manischewitz, a wine that seemed to live in the refrigerator from one holiday to the next without ever being emptied or replaced. Fortunately, as Israeli winemaking has matured, the source for seder wine has shifted from the shores of Lake Erie in New York State to the high-altitude vineyards of the Upper Galilee, where wineries such as Recanati are making quality kosher for Passover wines with international varieties.
Basic Recanati wines are reasonably priced crowd-pleasers: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot that could hail from good producers anywhere in the New World. The Reserve label wines offer a more distinctive experience. For Recanati winemaker Gil Shatsberg, who also founded the much-admired Amphorae Winery along Israel’s border with Lebanon, they represent his effort to make wines that speak of their origins in the Middle East near the Mediterranean Sea. Thus the Petite Syrah-Zinfandel Reserve 2011 from the Galilee is silky and bright with aromas of violets and fresh plums and the old-vine Wild Carignan Reserve 2010, Judean Hills tastes of bramble, smoke, and chocolate.
Winemaking in Israel comes with particular challenges. Vineyards have to be leased because the government owns all agricultural land. Plus, for a wine to be Kosher (as all Israeli wine must), the vineyard must be left fallow every seven years. This is accomplished symbolically through a national ban on exports after every seventh harvest, even if the vintage yielded the best wine a winery has ever produced.