Even though a growing number of Jews do not affiliate — they may not even be religious — kosher wine dealer Jay Buchsbaum said business is good.
Buchsbaum, vice president of Royal Wine Corp., in Bayone, N.J., which supplies product to Pinskers in Squirrel Hill, said his business is growing for two reasons: the Orthodox community is growing, and that segment of the market is drinking more wine.
Where once they drank grape juice, Buchsbaum said, now they’re drinking decent table wines every day of the week.
“Their consumption habits have grown,” he said.
Buchsbaum was in Pittsburgh recently for a wine tasting at Pinskers and to help owners Shlomo and Chana Perelman roll out their new expanded wine display and specialty chocolate selection. While here, he met with the Chronicle to discuss changes in the industry and to make some wine recommendations for this year’s Passover.
Also in Squirrel Hill, Michael Greathouse of A & M Distributors Inc., which specializes in boutique wineries, also offered his recommendations.
According to Buchsbaum, the kosher wine industry is changing in significant ways to meet the new demand.
First, Israeli winemakers have finally established an organization to promote their product — the Israeli Wine Producers Association (IWPA). For a long time, he said, Israel was the only major wine-producing country that did not have a promotion organization.
“Now, Israel is promoting itself through that [IWPA] … so far you have 16 wineries coming together promote Israel as just a great place to get wines.”
Also, as has been reported often in recent years, the quality of kosher wines is on the rise.
For instance, Baron Herzog, a California kosher winery, has come out with a line of “single vineyard wines.” Single vineyard means vintages of wines such as Cabernet are being produced with grapes from one vineyard and “not vineyards from the width and breadth of California,” Buchsbaum said.
Nonkosher wineries have been making wines this way for years. Now, kosher winemakers are doing it, too.
“It has upgraded the quality of kosher wine enormously,” Buchsbaum said. “Kosher wines have really made the transition to be just as good as their counterparts.”
Which brought him to Passover, and what’s hot this year:
• Castel Wines from the Judean Hills: The highest rated Israeli wines by nonkosher, non-Jewish wine critics, Buchsbaum particularly recommended the Grand Vin — a red that goes with complex and rich roasts or slow cooked stews — and the Castel C — a chardonnay for fish and fowl dishes.
• Binyamina Reserve Wines: These wines are relatively well priced, around $20 per bottle, he said, and pleasing to the palate. He singled out the cabernet — a flavorful fruity, smooth and soft tannin wine, which makes them quite drinkable. It doesn’t need a rich dish, though it pairs well that way.
• Jeunesse (Youthful) from Baron Herzog: This collection of semi-dry wines — white and red — make a good “transition” for those moving away from the sweet concord wines of their past to something not so sweet but more palatable.
Greathouse made four recommendations — two from Israel, two from Europe:
• Mony Classic Rosh Hanikrah (Israel): A wine from the Soreq Valley that produces high-quality grapes for the Mony Estate Vineyards. A blended wine (50 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Petite Syrah) it is a medium red in color with rich fruity aromas, and has a
mid-bodied palate with flavor of fresh herbs, and lemon with a long finish.
• Mony Classic Emerald Riesling (Israel): This semi-dry Riesling wine was fermented in stainless steel at 78 degrees. It has a color of pale straw, nose aromas of limes and melons, this wine has a refreshing balanced acidity with a citrus and a clean finish. It will pair well with chicken and fish.
• Prestige Cacher Merlot (France): A dry red from the Pays D’oc region of France, it yields a fruit forward, medium bodied wine, pairs well with brisket or roasted chicken dishes.
• Rambam Moscato (Italy): This white moscato grape generates a sparkling and fizzy wine with a peachy edge, a good choice as an apertif, with cheese and sweet courses, but also a great low alcohol choice for the seder.
Asked if there has been any innovation among Concord winemakers, Buchsbaum slowly shook his head and didn’t say a word.
Then he thought better of his response.
“On the other hand,” he said, “there is something reminiscent of home and warmth and old, good times” connected with the concord wines. “I actually use one glass of Concord on at least one of the three major holidays. I just get that sense of warmth, and that’s fine because it’s well made.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)