By Gamliel Kronemer
Wine producers, just like clothing designers, will take gambles in prognosticating wine trends, and some of these gambles will turn out to be ill-timed or costly. “Fashions being themselves begotten of the desire for change, are quick to change also,” observed Marcel Proust. No place does this seem to be truer than in the kosher wine world, where there is always the desire to try something new and different. Twenty years ago, for instance, riesling was one of the bestselling kosher white wines, but then almost completely disappeared from the market … and now it is fashionable yet again. In the early 2000s kosher wine producers started gambling on fortified wines, as it turns out they were misreading the market.
Fortified wines are wines to which distilled alcohol, usually brandy, is added during the winemaking process. This distilled alcohol not only increases the alcoholic content of the wine, but can also have profound effects on the wine’s flavor and mouthfeel. Indeed, fortified wines often seem to combine the flavors and heft of wine with the warming sensations of distilled spirits. The three best known styles of fortified wines are port, from the Porto region of Portugal, sherry, from the Jerez region of Spain, and vermouth, from various regions in France and Italy. All three of these styles have long been copied, with greater or lesser success, by winemakers throughout the world.
In the early 2000s, there were four long-available kosher fortified wines available U.S.: Kedem’s New York State Port, Kedem’s Sweet and Dry Vermouths, and a port-style wine from Carmel. (I believe it was called Portum and is not to be confused with the currently produced Carmel Vintage, which is a far better wine.) With the “kosher wine revolution” well underway, Royal Wine Corp., as well as other producers/importers, took a reasonable gamble that there would be demand for higher-end fortified wines.
By 2004 Royal had brought in fino sherry from sherry giant Tio Pepe, and port wine from one of Portugal’s leading producers, Taylor Fladgate, sold under the name Porto Cordovero. These wines sold, but not well. “The port from Taylor Fladgate was last produced in 2007, and we sold out a few years ago,” said Gabriel Geller, Royal Wine’s director of public relations and wine education.
“Now that we don’t have them anymore, I hear a lot of people asking about them—now there is demand.
The kosher consumer is becoming more educated [about wine], more interested, broadening their horizons about different categories of wine, and the demand for port and port-style wines and other [fortified] wines is growing because of it.”
Today, while kosher sherry—at least for the moment—has completely disappeared from the market, both the demand for, and quality of, kosher fortified wines has really started to hit their stride. In terms of port and portstyle wines, two new ruby ports, Quinta Da Trovisca and Alma Do Mar (both imported by Red Garden Importers) have recently hit the market. There are also now several good producers of Israeli port-style wines, the most recent of which is Netofa Winery, whose Ruby and Late Bottled Vintage ports are imported and sold by Kosherwine.com.
However, the most rapid area of growth has been in kosher vermouth. Little more thana year ago, the only kosher vermouths available in the U.S. were the sweet and dry vermouths produced by Kedem. While both are passable, neither are of the best quality. (When I visited Royal Wine Corp.’s headquarters for the first time in 2005 I was told that they were largely produced as a favor for kosher restaurants, who wanted to be able to make and sell martinis and Manhattan cocktails.)
Then, about a year ago, Jonathan Hajdu (hajduwines.com) released his rosé-color vermouth. Not long after that Dalton’s extra dry vermouth hit the market. Then, in January, vermouth giant Martini & Rossi, which for decades has produced kosher vermouth for the Israeli market, finally started selling the kosher version of their extra dry vermouth in the U.S. And by the time this magazine goes to press, a new line of kosher vermouths from Italy, called Lovatelli, should be on store shelves. This rapid growth in the quality and variety of kosher vermouth was likely not only driven by growing interest in fortified wine or restaurant service, but by a growing interest in craft cocktails within the kosher-observant community.
Yes, kosher fortified wines are back finally in fashion. Here’s hoping that they are not merely a fad, but rather like the black cocktail dress, always in style.