Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Passover and Wine

In Jewish tradition, wine is a sacred beverage that plays an important part in many religious ceremonies.  During Seder, there is an obligation to drink four cups of wine. Passover began Monday, the 25th and will end on April 2nd.

Kosher wines can only contain kosher ingredients. According to Jewish law, after the grapes are picked and crushed, only Shabbat-observant Jews can handle the fermented juice and make the wines.

The rules for kosher wines are extensive. Kosher regulations require that only practicing male Jews handle the winemaking equipment and the kosher wines.  These rules were set up so that Jews would never get a glass of wine that had been used for, or in connection with, idol worship.
But since you could still not be sure of the wines served at public gatherings and parties, mevushal wines were introduced.  Mevushal means boiled - a wine has been heated and boiled.  A mevushal wine is believed to be less susceptible to prohibited rituals.  Therefore any one can open a mevushal wine without altering its standing as a kosher wine.  The only problem has been that the boiling removed most of the flavor.

However, today a mevushal wine is no longer boiled.  Instead, it undergoes flash pasteurization or HTST (high temperature short time) to retain the flavors of the wine.
During this flash pasteurization, the wine is heated up quickly to around 180 degrees for just less than 60 seconds.  It is then chilled down quickly back to room temperature in order to preserve those wonderful wine flavors.

There are many kosher wines that are non-mevushal.  Since red wines are sensitive to heating, the flash pasteurizing doesn’t lend to the taste.  Wines may be certified kosher and certified kosher for Passover and not be mevushal.

While there are kosher wines, there are also kosher for Passover wines.  These wines must be made with yeasts that are natural and indigenous. In other words, no yeast that has been in contact with grain, bread or dough. The wine must not contain common preservatives or non-kosher ingredients.

All Israeli wines are Kosher for Passover. Most other kosher wines are kosher for Passover, but be sure to check the label for the P.

In the U.S., there are several wineries that produce kosher wines.

Covenant Wines located in St Helena, California offers five kosher wines: three Napa Cabernets, a Sonoma Chardonnay, and a Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  All Covenant Wines are made under the supervision of the Orthodox Union and are kosher for Passover.

Don Ernesto believes “Good wines shouldn’t be complicated.” (Don Ernesto is Ernie Weir, owner of Hagafen Cellars.) There are five wines offered including two red table wines, Crescendo and Clarinet.  The whites include a Rose de Syrah, and College White.  All are kosher for Passover and Mevushal wines.

Hagafen Cellars is located in Napa Valley.  Winemaker Ernie Weir produces the wines according to Jewish dietary laws.  Only 8,000 cases are produced each year. The wines include Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, several Rieslings, Sauvignon Blanc and a Brut Cuvee’.

Herzog Wine Cellars is located in Oxnard, California.  In operation for over 100 years, the winery offers several varietals including Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, even Champagne. All wines are certified kosher.

Weinstock Wine Cellars offers wines that are Mevushal and kosher for Passover.  Located in California, the kosher wines include Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, White Zin, and Moscato.

So maybe it’s time to consider an interesting American kosher wine for Passover.  And remember, Ein Simcha Ela BeBasar Veyayin—"There is no joy except through meat and wine".

~ Joy

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Public Auction to Sell UK Government's Cellar Wines

Tomorrow, for the first time, the UK will allow the public auction of some very sought after wines from the Government’s Hospitality Wine Cellar.  What originally began as the Hospitality Fund was established in 1908 in order to offer visiting dignitaries a hospitable welcome.  This quickly led to the creation a government wine cellar.

The Government Hospitality Wine Committee decides what wines will be placed in the cellar to be served at dinners to entertain visiting dignitaries and heads of state.   The committee is made up of five members, a Chairman and four Masters of Wine.  These volunteers are government officials and wine consultants.

The Wine Committee selects the wines to be purchased, based on blind tastings.  Once acquired, the committee writes tasting descriptions about each wine to aid in selecting what is appropriate for an event or dignitary. The government purchases the wines young and then holds them in the cellar until they have reached full maturity.   The cellar contains wines that are more traditional and includes French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The Wine Committee then reviews the cellared wines periodically to determine several factors including how they are ageing, the quality, estimated time before opening, and what is ready to serve now.  Some of the wines are over 70 years old and still in fine shape. The UK government’s cellar is a paradigm of professional wine cellar management.  It is located in the basement of Lancaster House, near Buckingham Palace, in London.

The government’s cellar holds almost 40,000 bottles of wines currently worth an estimated £2.95m ($4.47 million). Originally about £850,000 (over 1.2 million) was spent to purchase them. The wine committee also recommends which wines should be sold, and when. 

Tomorrow, Christie’s will auction several of the wines from the UK government’s cellar.  These wines are said to be in peak condition and ready to be consumed.  

On the list to be auctioned are six bottles of Chateau Latour  - Vintage 1961.  Tasting notes indicate that the wine has been “fully mature for 15 years, but it seems to get richer, …developing more aromatic nuances without losing any sweetness or concentration.”  It is estimated to be worth £20,000-£30,000 ($30,200 – 45,300). 

Other government lots include six bottles of 1970 Pétrus.  Notes indicate, “It is a profound Pétrus, and certainly one of the great Pétrus’ of the last half century.”   It has an estimated value of £5,000, ($7,500).  Also six bottles of Pétrus, Vintage 1978, will be auction with a value around £4,000 ($6,000).

 A case of 1986 Mouton Rothschild, last tasted in November 2005, have notes which say, “Nowhere near ready… Hopefully*(****) 2010 - ?  Estimated value £5,000-£6,000  ($7,500 – 9,000).

And, a case of 1986 Le Pin.  Tasting notes say, “The finish is long and almost Medoc-like.” The case is expected to bring in around £10,000 ($15,100).  Total amount expected to be raised for the 54 bottles sold in six lots is around £50,000 ($75,500).

The UK Government Wine Cellar provides wine for over 200 events each year. The wines to be auctioned tomorrow have been served to “Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers throughout the decades."

The auction for the UK government’s wines will begin at 2:30 P.M. London time, Thursday, March 21st. Lots 207 – 212 come directly from the Government Hospitality Wine Cellars where they have been stored since their original purchase.  The auction will be held at Lancaster House on King Street in London.  To watch the auction in real time or to register to bid on line, visit

A government review in 2010 recommended that the cellar assume full financial responsibility for the purchase of the wines, instead of relying on the taxpayers.  This is expected to be the first of many such auctions from the UK’s government cellars as they attempt to become self-funding.

~ Joy

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Determine if a Retail Wine Club is Reputable

Wine clubs are as varied as the wines they sell.  Some clubs are good, offering decent wines at affordable prices. Some wine clubs are outstanding, presenting you with great variety of wonderful wines, personal selection, wine education materials, and discounts. And then there are some that are unfortunately just a waste of patience, time, and money.

So how do you determine which clubs are legitimate and which are questionable?  It’s time for a little computer detective work.

To begin, never sign up for a wine club without first reading the fine print in the agreement, and make sure you understand it.  If not, call the company for an explanation.  If they will not give one, or did not explain it to your satisfaction, look for a club with better customer service.

Pay attention when wine clubs are offered by well-known companies like Delta, American Airlines, Best Buy, Williams- Sonoma, Good Sam, or the NRA. While joining these wine clubs may get you points, rewards, or a donation made to a cause you support, remember these companies are not involved in the wine industry. They are not selecting or providing the wines, nor are they handling the shipping, or dealing with any problems that occur. 

They have entered into an agreement with a third party wine club vendor to create a turn key wine club; a club which provides market-ready private label wine brands to be sold as a well-known company’s  “wine club.”  In return, the well-known company will get a percentage of the wine club sales their name is attached to. A third party vendor is the one responsible for selling the wine.

So, it makes sense that before joining a wine club, check out the wine club's web page for information about the club, who is managing it, and what is required to join and be a member.  If there is another vendor involved, this is where you can uncover who the actual third party wine seller is. 

If there is a third party vendor involved, it’s time to Google that seller's name. This is how you'll discover what their internet reputation is.  And you need to know because this is the company you will be sending your personal information and club forms to, where you're making your wine selection requests, indicating your club preferences, billing options, providing shipping information, and paying for the wines. And ultimately, this is the company you must deal with if there are any problems.

If you discover information that concerns you, take the next step and check the third party wine club seller's reputation with the Better Business Bureau  Also check to see if there any complaints registered with their home county BBB.  If so, proceed with caution. Few people will take the time to submit a BBB complaint unless they are very unhappy.  If you start reading pages of complaints, walk away.

The last step, if you’re finding some questionable comments and reviews, is to go to Ripoff Report and see if anything has been submitted. There are usually some rants here, but when you start finding report after report that says basically the same thing.... Enough said.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) issued new regulations for third party wine club vendors, known as TPP’s - Third Party Providers, in 2011.  TPP’s are relatively new to the wine industry, and the ABC felt that guidelines from the 20th Century did not encompass the complicated environment of selling wine on the internet today. Most TPP's are located in California because of the immense grape growing regions.

There are several web sites that review wine clubs.  But before taking what they say as absolute, be sure to find out how they go about the reviewing process.  Is the wine club vendor required to pay for it’s review, or send free samples to be reviewed, or advertise on the wine club reviewer's web site?  How do you find out? Check the bottom of the reviewer's web page for a link, usually under “About Us”, “How to Submit Your Wines”, or the simply stated “Compensation Disclosure.” 

If you find a wine club that sounds too good to be true – it just might be. Check it out. Remember, a wine club is only as good as the value, service, and enjoyment you receive. 

~ Joy

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hollywood and Vine – Taking a Look at Celebrity Wines

This month, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie partnering with the French winemaking family, Perrin, will release a Rose’ wine on the Miraval Cotes de Provence label.  Just one example of the many celebrities planning to release wines this year.  It is apparent, celebrities are quite taken with the wine industry.  

It seems the rich and famous have always been drawn to the world of wine.  In ancient Greece, well-known philosophers and playwrights owned their own vineyards, as did Roman politicians and military officers.

Today many of the celebrated stars of sports, television and films, Rock-n-Roll, even government officials, have their own wineries and vineyards, or at least a line of wines named after them

According to a 2007 study by Nielsen research, grocery store sales of celebrity wine rose almost 19% in one year  - That represent $42 million – almost 1% - of the U.S.’s total wine sales.  Not a bad investment.  

In Name Only –
The celebrity wine industry is made up different levels of participation. There are those who simply lend their name in order to become a wine brand. 

For six years, football legend, Mike Ditka, lent his name to a line of wines produced by Mendocino Wine Company.  But last year Ditka announced that he was relaunching Mike Ditka Wines with a new company, Teriato Wines International
of Santa Rosa, California. Teriato Wines is a marketer of luxury wines in the U.S. and handles over 60 brands, including Ditka’s.  Mike Ditka’s wines are produced by unspecified wineries in California.

The new lineup was released last fall. There are eight wines, each named after a phase in Ditka’s football career.  The wines include The Player (Merlot and Pinot Grigio), The Coach (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc), The Hall of Famer (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), The Icon (Cabernet Sauvignon), and The Champion (a red wine blend.)  Hoping to boost sagging sales, Ditka’s wines will sell from $15 to $50 a bottle. The Ditka wines are being sold in select locations, in restaurants, and online.

Comedian and actor, Dan Aykroyd first developed a taste for wine while working on the Blues Brothers movie.  In 2007, he partnered with Diamond Estates Wine and Spirits a Canadian alcohol distributors, to launch Dan Aykroyd Wines.

Diamond Estates offers a Chardonnay, Cabernet, Cabernet/Merlot Blend, Sauvignon Blanc, and an Icewine under the Dan Akyroyd Wine label. These are available in Canada only.

In the U.S., Akyroyd’s Cabernet and Chardonnay were made in collaboration with DeLoach Vineyards of Sonoma County, California.
They retail for under $20 a bottle.

Wine Collaboration –
There are those who actually collaborate with a known winery or winemaker to help create their own wines.

Jeff Gordon, of NASCAR fame, partnered with winemaker Joe Briggs of August Briggs Winery in Calistoga, California, to produce his award-winning wines.  The first vintage was released in 2005.

Gordon’s wine line includes Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and a signature red blend, Joie de Virve.  Prices range from $45 to $65 per bottle, and a magnum (1.5 Liter) of the Joie de Vivre for $115. Jeff Gordon wines may be found in restaurants and wine shops in California, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  There is also a Jeff Gordon Collection Wine Club. Learn more at

Another sports legend, Wayne Gretzky, had a winery and vineyard in Canada, but closed it in 2011.  Gretzky now partners with Peller Estates to produce the wines. 

Wayne Gretzky Estates offers three lines of wine.  The Founders series comprised of Meritage, Merlot, Chardonnay (this wine won a double-gold medal in the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships,) Riesling, and a Cab/Merlot blend. Founder wines averages between $14 and $16 a bottle. The Estate series is made up of a Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and a Shiraz Cabernet.  The Estate wines run between $16 and $23 per bottle.  And in true Canadian style, there is a Shiraz Icewine for $55 for a 375ml. 

The wines are available throughout Canada, and may be ordered on line for US residents.
There is not a dedicated vineyard or winery for the wines, but they may be tasted at Wine Country Vintners in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. Wine Country Vintners also offers tastings of Trius, Peller Estates, and Hillebrand wines.

Heritage Wines -
Then there are the wineries that have some heritage to them.

Actor Raymond Burr bought a ranch in Dry Creek Valley, California in 1986.  The purpose was to plant grapes for wine production. Burr wanted to call the estate, A Quinta dos dois Amigos, (The Farm of Two Friends).

 When Burr died in 1993, his partner, Robert Benevides renamed the estate Raymond Burr Vineyards as a tribute to him.

Winemaker Phyllis Zouzounis began at the winery in 2006.  Today, Raymond Burr Vineyards produces award-winning wines crafted from Cabernet, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Portuguese grapes grown on the estate.  The wines sell for $28 to $38 a bottle, with the Estate Port at $48 per bottle. Wines may be purchased at the winery, on the web site, by joining the wine club, or at select locations.

Another heritage winery is MacMurray Ranch in the Russian River Valley in California.  Actor Fred MacMurray purchased the ranch in 1941.  Cattle herds were raised there until 1996 when Gallo bought the land and planted grapes.  There are now 450 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes on the ranch lands.  The first vintage for MacMurray’s Ranch was released in 2000.

Today, winemaker Chris Munsell crafts the award-winning wines for MacMurray Ranch. The wines are actually made at several Gallo-owned wineries.  The wines are crafted from grapes on the ranch and from other vineyards in Sonoma County, the Central Coast and the Willamette Valley.  The wines produced are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Prices range from $20 to $50 a bottle.

Fred MacMurray’s daughter, Kate, is the spokesperson for the wine label. MacMurray Ranch offers a wine club and online store on its web site.

Living the Life -
And that brings us to a well-known celebrity and ‘frontiersman’ who actually walked the talk and lived the life of owing a winery and vineyard.

Actor, Fess Parker purchased over 700 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1987.  He wanted to establish a vineyard and start a winery there, a place where he, his wife, and their two grown children could work together.

The Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard includes over 1,500 acres of vineyards, complete with a tasting room and visitors center.  The winery was featured in the 2004 wine movie Sideways.  Fans of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett suddenly took notice and the winery’s fame began to spread.  Parker built the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn nearby and made it a habit to enjoy a glass of wine with visitors every Thursday.

Although Parker died in 2010, his son Eli and daughter Ashley, are still involved in the day–to-day operation of the winery and vineyard, along with Ashley’s husband, Tim Snider. 

The Parker wine line up includes Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling and non-traditional Ports.  The wines sell for $13 to $55 a bottle.

And the list goes on…
There are wine bottles featuring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. 
Actors Drew Barrymore, Sam Neil, Emilio Estevez, and Antonio Bandaras, all own commercial wineries. 
Musicians have an affinity to be involved in the wine biz too.  There’s Sting, Madonna, Fergie, Lil Jon, Dave Matthews, Boz Scaggs, even AC/DC.

Celebrities and wine - yet another winning combination in the wine industry.

~ Joy