By Kenny Friedman
In recent years, there has been a growing treasure trove of solidvalue kosher wines from Italy and Spain that present a double-barreled win for every wine enthusiast: excellent wines that are also reasonably priced.
These wines are often referred to as “quality price ratio” or QPR wines, which is an economic term referring to the ratio of high quality to the relatively low price. Some also call these wines hidden gems or cellar defenders (meaning you can drink these while you wait for the more expensive, collectible wines in your cellar to mature). It is no simple feat to find wines that offer value greatly exceeding their cost, so this influx has been quite welcome. Many, if not most, of the wines mentioned in this article are under the $25 or $30 price point, but a few wines mentioned here are more pricey; expensive wines can present a high QPR if the price is widely considered to be reasonable considering
This trend shows no signs of slowing, with kosher wines from these two European nations growing in profitability and popularity. Allied Importers, for example, focuses on cultivating smaller wineries and brands. One such winery, Cantina Giuliano, a kosher boutique Tuscan winery, has become well known for its impressive and affordable wines. The River Wine, a New York wine importer and distributor, was ahead of the curve on this trend, producing wines under its Contessa Annalisa brand from various regions of Italy at very affordable prices. (While not necessarily QPR wines, The River has also brought an array of “firsts” to the retail market, including several Super Tuscan wines, an Amarone della Valpolicella and an Aglianico.)
Royal Wines, the largest wine importer and distributor responsible for approximately 90% of kosher wine imports to the U.S.—is markedly increasing their portfolio as well, as they are finding increasing demand from consumers for new wines from Italy and Spain, said Gabriel Geller, Royal Wine’s director of publicity and wine education.
“There are two new Italian wines recently released: Villa Mangiacane Magnificus and Terra di Seta Guiduccio,” said Geller. “Both are Super Tuscans [wines made in Italy with wine grapes that are not native to Italy; most often cabernet sauvignon or merlot]. Additionally we’re launching in the coming weeks a new proprietary brand of quality Italian wines called Lovatelli. It will include Italian vermouths; a Barbera, a Primitivo and more to come in the near future.”
Importer and négociant Ralph Madeb, who operates M&M Imports, has also greatly increased new offerings at varying price ranges from this region, and beginning this spring, KosherWine. com has begun to offer some of the wines from his portfolio. They have historically been available only in the New York region and on the website IdrinkKosher.com.
Here are some of my preferred affordable and delicious wine picks from Italy and Spain.
Borgo Bella, Chianti, 2019
A great entry-level Chianti showing true Tuscan sangiovese notes of red fruit, cherry, strawberry, red plum and raspberry, with savory tomato and herbaceous notes. There is some smoke on the nose as well. Very nice acid. A simple wine, yes, but a good example of just that: simple but food-friendly Chianti. Low alcohol and not a fruity smack in the face. I add points for the fact that it’s a good, inexpensive mevushal choice. At its price, a worthwhile, “drinknow” wine that will pair well with any Italian favorite dish. $17, 12.5% ABV, mevushal.
Borgo Reale, Pinot Grigio
Cantine del Borgo Reale is a brand, not a winery, and is a kosher line produced for the American wine importer Allied Importers USA, Ltd., of New York. Almost without exception, this is a highly enjoyable pinot grigio with pinot grigio’s hallmark brilliant, mouthwatering acidity. Pale lemon in the glass, with a lovely nose of citrus and mineral. The bone-dry palate shows high acidity, with lemon, tart Granny Smith apple and saline minerality. I particularly enjoy this wine with ahi tuna poke bowls filled with lightly-seasoned raw ahi, fresh avocado, raw Portobello mushrooms, Persian cucumbers and spring strawberries. $12, 12.5% ABV, mevushal.
Cantina del Redi, Pleos, Toscana Sangiovese, 2019
Very food friendly. In the glass, ruby red with purple.Clear and light. On the nose, lots of redfruit: cranberry, raspberry, unripe cherry, with a touch of earth. On the palate, the definition of a medium-bodied wine. Medium-plus acid and high, mouth-coating tannins. Perfect with about any food. $18, 13.5% ABV, non-mevushal.
Terra di Seta, Chianti Classico, 2020
A consistent all-star or potential hall-offamer in the QPR category (please never change!), this Chianti Classico is dark ruby in the glass, with a nose of ripe cherry, strawberry, blackcurrant, spice and some earth. The palate shows more dark red fruits and some vegetal, earthy character. Fullbodied, medium plus acid, medium-plus tannins. While this wine invariably is enjoyable upon release (though in my opinion the 2018 was nowhere near ready), it will cellar and improve over the next decade. $22, 13.5% ABV, non-mevushal.
Terra di Seta Assai, Assai, Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico, 2016
While this wine is a major step up in price at about $50-$55, it is an example that higher-priced wines can be true QPR as well. In other words, I’d rather shell out $55 for this beauty, which easily beats many other wines priced far higher. This wine could sell for $100 and would be worth it. (I hope they are not reading this!) That’s the definition of QPR,offering quality beyond its price. This bottle should be stored for at least a few more years. I wouldn’t open until 2026, and then enjoy it for the next decade.$55, 14% ABV, non-mevushal.
Passione Natura, Sorrento, Colline Pescaresi, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2020
I was happily surprised by this grab-bag bottle I picked up. I basically will buy anything kosher from Italy and opened this with a Saturday night homemade pizza (made in my pandemic-era pizza oven purchase). I found this cab to be cool-climate in style, a nice diversion from the big, fruitforward cabs we all know and (sometimes) love. Great acid, nice red fruit: cherry, strawberry, cranberry, and lighter in body. This one’s mevushal, so a nice choice for your bar mitzvahs, weddings or weeknight restaurants. $19, 12.5% ABV, mevushal. (Credit: IdrinkKosher.com)
Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico, DOCG, 2020
The 2019 edition was a hit in my household and among friends. “Where do I find the bottle with the bird on it?” Well, that’s not so simple when you live outside the New York area. (Yes, dear readers, those people exist.) But this is a wine worth seeking. A great example of a Chianti Classico showing red fruit, earth and smoke, with great acidity and a long finish. You can certainly sit on a case of these for the next five to 10 years. At its price, it’s a worthwhile investment. $37, 13.5% ABV, non-mevushal. (Credit: IdrinkKosher.com)
Cantina Giuliano, Vermentino, 2021
I really loved the nose on this wine from one of Italy’s only all-kosher wineries: Eli and Lara Gauthier’s Cantina Giuliano, located in the small village of Casciana Alta, in the heart of Tuscany. The winery is named for Lara’s grandfather Giuliano, who left behind a winery and farm after his untimely passing. With the family unable to sustain the business, generations of farming seemingly ended. But Eli later devoted himself to the art of winemaking, and be it through devotion or destiny, he and Lara built their own winery and farm-to-table restaurant and inn, centered around the land and building Giuliano left behind. The Vermentino: aromatic nose full of citrus, mineral, stone fruit, with a palate of excellent salinity, high acid and lovely fruit. Excellent. $19, 12.5% ABV, non-mevushal.
Cantina Sanpaolo, Irpinia Aglianico, DOCG, 2018
Cantina Sanpaolo, which we have discovered before with its delicious Greco di Tufo, is nestled in Puglia, the narrow wine region of the southeast corner of Italy’s famous geographical “boot.” The winemaker, Claudio Quarta, was a biologist, geneticist and microbiologist, and while developing biotechnologies, dreamed of returning to Italy to make wine. Sanpaolo strives to use native grapes to the region, and with the aforementioned Greco di Tufo, another kosher offering has now been happily offered to interested drinkers in the Irpinia Aglianico. The Aglianico has an incredibly interesting nose: I couldn't stop smelling fresh spring lilacs! Major floral notes with red and black fruit and savory notes. Full-bodied and earthy, with chewy tannins. This is uber young so it needs lots of air. An interesting taste of Italy at just $25. 13% ABV, non-mevushal.(Credit: IdrinkKosher.com)
Pescaja, Arneis, Terre Alfieri, 2020
This gorgeous white wine blew me away upon my first sniff of the 2019 vintage. Arneis is a white wine grape native to Piedmont, Italy, which was resuscitated from near death in the 1970s. Pescaja Winery, located in Piedmont, is producing gorgeous wine from Arneis, this “little rascal” of a variety. Floral with honeysuckle and stone fruits—pear, peach, apricot and the like. The palate? Beautiful. Crisp, lively acid, with more honeysuckle, peach and apricot. Excellent minerality and a finish that seemingly never ends. This is why we want more wines from Italy. $24, 13% ABV, non-mevushal. (Credit: IdrinkKosher.com)
Gura di Mare, Tirsat, 2019
Tirsat is Arabic for “reef,” and is so named as this new vineyard and company from Domini Castellare di Castellina is located in Menfi, in Porto Palo, overlooking the beaches on the west coast of Italy. Tirsat is made from a 50-50 blend of chardonnay and viognier, aged “sur lie,” or on the yeast left from fermentation, with 12 months of bâtonnage and four months aging in the bottle. The first vintage was produced in 2011, and the first kosher cuvee was this one, the 2019. In the glass, a slightly muddled golden color. Honey, apricot, brioche. On the palate, soft and elegant. Aging in lees enhances the body, adds richness and complexity. This is an ageable white wine as the sur lie method helps protect against oxidation. Soft and balanced acid. Some nuttiness and more brioche. Serve the Tirsat just slightly chilled. Great wine. $50, 13% ABV, non-mevushal. (Credit: IdrinkKosher.com)
Celler de Capçanes, Peraj Ha'abib, Pinot Noir, 2018
We turn to Spain and the southern part of Priorat, to Celler de Capçanes, founded in 1933, and producing kosher wines since 1995. Spain is well known internationally for its inexpensive, lively wines, and kosher, as it should be, is no different. Capçanes has long been associated with affordable, delicious wine. This wine stays true to that assumption. In this bottle we find a true expression of pinot. Clear, light ruby to purple in the glass. Dark cherries, garrigue, spice and some smoked meat on the nose. Medium body tending toward the plus side of medium. On the palate, tart red fruit, earth, roasted meat. Medium tannins, higher than usual for pinot, but those will settle with time. This wine looks like a cellar keeper. Very nicely balanced. $25, 14% ABV, non-mevushal.
Bodegas Faustino, Faustino VI, Rioja, 2020
The well regarded, 160-yearold estate winery, Bodegas Faustino, was new to the kosher market with the 2020 vintage (a 2019 was released in Israel). Rioja is the world-famous region in northern Spain Rioja is not a grape varietal, but a region—and the chief varietalin Rioja is the beloved tempranillo grape, as we find in this bottle. Bodegas Faustino, named for the family in 1960, is located in Oyón, Rioja Alavesa, in northern Spain, and is a DOCa, or controlled wine region. This Rioja serves as a perfect example of the impressive Spanish wine that can be found at inexpensive prices. In the glass, maroon red even on the edges, clear but deep. Recognizable Rioja nose of ripe, jammy red cherry and cranberry. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, lovely mediumplus tannins. I would not be surprised that this bottle would age well, but it’s great now. At its price it’s worth the experiment. $17, 14% ABV, non-mevushal.
Elvi, Herenza, Rioja, 2020
We all love affordable—but still delicious— wine, and I’m consistently asked to recommend just such a bottle. A longtime easy answer and favorite go-to of mine is the Elvi Herenza Rioja, priced in the $15-$20 sweet-value spot, and widely available in local shops carrying kosher selections or online. The wonderful Elvi Winery is owned by the Cohen family of Barcelona, and produces only kosher wine. It is possibly the first all-kosher estate winery in Spain since the Inquisition! 100% tempranillo, this wine is aged in oak for six months. There is plenty of ripe red fruit here, cherries and raspberries, dark chocolate and earth, with very nice acid and tannins, nicely balanced in the glass. Full-bodied with a long finish. Since 2016 this wine has been made mevushal so it’s a great choice for your catered affairs. $17, 13.5% ABV, mevushal.
Viña Memorias, Alenar, 745, Tinto, 2021
The bobal grape is the native variety of the D.O. Utiel-Requena, where it is the most widely planted grape, making up 80% of vines in the region. In all of Spain, only the far more famous tempranillo is more common. And Utiel-Requena, while not remarkable for its wine, is an ancient wine-growing region, but until recently, bobal was primarily used as a grape for blending, due to its productive grape clusters. This is why most people, particularly in the kosher market, have not heard of bobal. Today, however, the upstart Utiel- Requena winery Viña Memorias is producing a line of bobal, drawing attention to a native variety in an age where the consumer seeks such products. Annie Molcho of Viña Memorias saw the family at a crossroads in 2015, and decided to go all-in, opening an estate winery. Alenar is the entry-level wine but does not drink as such. In the glass, clear, deep and vibrant ruby, clean, fresh and youthful, pronounced nose of red cherry, strawberry, and plum. The palate showed as quite light (only 12% ABV), with high acidity and medium tannins. This is a fun, drink-now wine that I greatly enjoyed. Lively and food-friendly. $22, 12% ABV, non-mevushal.
Elvi, Cava, Brut, NV
I couldn’t possibly leave bubbly off of my QPR list, and the Elvi Cava Brut is a wonderful one. Cava is made in the same traditional method used in Champagne, where the secondary fermentation occurs right inside the bottle. I always enjoy this Elvi Cava, which sells at a fraction of the cost of premium Champagne. In the glass, pale gold with fine bubbles. The nose shows citrus, floral character, pear and toast. The palate is citrusy with green notes and nice, tart acid. This cava is capable of aging and improving in your cellar. $20, 11.5% ABV, non-mevushal.
Ramon Cardova, Rioja, Crianza, 2019
Ramon Cardova is the kosher line produced by Ramon Bilbao, one of Spain’s most respected wineries. The Rioja Crianza is estate-bottled, 100% tempranillo, aged in American oak for one year, followed by bottle-aging of six months. The name pays tribute to the town of Cordova, where the famous Jewish sage and philosopher Maimonides lived. What makes it “Crianza”? The tempranillo needs to be aged in oak for a minimum of one year (in this case American oak barrels) and then aged at least six months in the bottle. Crianza is basically the second tier of Rioja. Ruby red with a clear rim, the Cardova Crianza has a nose of ripe red berries, toasted vanilla, cedar, and spice. The wine improves with time in the glass. On the palate, medium plus body, medium plus acid, full, mouth coating tannins. Layered and nicely structured. Long finish. I have long been a fan of this wine. Layered and richly enjoyable, this is another great mevushal option. $20, 14.5% ABV, mevushal.
Elvi, Clos Mesorah, 2019
The Cohen-Aleta family flagship wine, proving that even more expensive wine can still be QPR. While this wine is certainly not cheap, its elegance and depth are highly difficult to find in this price range. These are bottles that can be laid aside for years to improve. Masterful winemaking and great quality for its cost. On the nose, perfumed and floral, with dark fruits, blackberries and black plum, game, earth, and smoke. This wine has sheer elegance with great depth. Full-bodied with excellent structure and balance. The long finish leaves a song on your palate. $75, 13.5% ABV, non-mevushal.