Wine plays a large role in many religious rituals, but its part in the Passover celebration is central. All participants in the traditional seder are expected to drink four cups of wine at specified intervals (my kind of holiday, to be sure), a rite that begins the week-long commemoration of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian slavery.
In spite of that, kosher wine remains a misunderstood category among many consumers. Too many wine drinkers associate it with sweet wine, particularly the dreaded Manischewitz or Mogen David they were served in their youth. Four cups of wine may be specified, but unfortunately their quality is not.
Kosher wine has undergone a dramatic change in recent years. More often than not it is dry, artfully made, and indistinguishable from regular wine to the casual observer. While the requirements are still the same---it must be produced under rabbinical supervision, by observant Jews---the results are often a world apart.
A case in point is the newly-released Excelencia Brut from Freixenet ($18), arriving in stores just in time for Passover. Excelencia is a Cava, or methode champenoise sparkling wine made in Northern Spain, and like most Cava it is an excellent, cost-effective alternative to Champagne. The grape variety is 100% Macabeo (a white grape sometimes known as Viura), so it is stylistically similar to a Blanc de Blancs. Freixenet has certainly had enough time to get it right: founded nearly 150 years ago, it has grown into the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world.
Visually, Excelencia offers a deep yellow color and tightly packed streams of small bubbles. The nose reveals a bouquet of tart citrus, with yeasty lemon aromas and a hint of spice. It is ripe and generous in the mouth, with the lemon flavors mingling with vanilla in the mid palate; the acidity is crisp and the overall effect is refreshing, inviting you to take sip after sip. Drink this with hors d’oeuvres, fish and shellfish, as well as poultry and veal dishes.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press in June. For more information, go to amazon.com