Is Pontet Canet 2004 the Best Kosher Wine Out There?

I do not usually drink Kosher wine. My recollections from childhood of sickly sweet wines with the foxy taste of non-vinifera grapes form a mental block. But a friend recently was given the Kosher cuvée of Pontet Canet 2004, so we set up a side-by-side comparison with the regular cuvée from my cellar.

I find it difficult to see the point of Kosher wine. If it’s not necessary for orange juice to be certified Kosher, why should wine need to be certified? How do grapes differ from oranges or lemons or other fruits? I suppose it’s reasonable if the wine is to be used for sacramental purposes, but it seems to be confusing things to require certification for a wine to be drunk with dinner. Of course, winemaking involves more manipulation than producing fruit juice, and I can see that it may also be necessary to certify that non Kosher products have not been used—the most obvious being some fining agents—but basically any wine that has been made in the usual way without fining or filtration should not breach the rules of Kashrus.

Fining is not an issue at Pontet Canet as the wine is not fined anyway. The Kosher wine comes from specific parcels, so that it can be guaranteed to be kosher all the way from vineyard to bottle. “The wine cannot be exactly the same, but it has to get the soul of the place… It comes from some specific parcels with the three main varieties chosen to represent the best they could the average of the estate. There is no Petit Verdot… It has to be Kosher from the receiving of the grapes. Making a selection of some barrels would mean that all the barrels would have to be produced in a Kosher way,” winemaker Jean-Michel Comme explains. About 10,000 bottles of Kosher wine were produced from each of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages, and the only difference in production from the regular cuvée was that it was made in vats with an automatic system of pumping over for the weekends (because the supervisors could not be there on Saturday).

The wines were surprisingly different. To my palate, the regular cuvee is more evidently Cabernet-based; not overtly herbaceous, but not directly fruit-driven, settling down to a very nice balance of acidity with developing fruits, not quite ready yet, smooth and elegant, very much in the classical tradition of Pauillac. The Kosher version seems softer (it feels as though it has more Merlot) with lower acidity. It is more approachable and seems ready now. The difference seems almost like a subtle change in seasoning, and I wonder if the main factor could be the absence of Petit Verdot (there is 2% in the 2004 regular cuvée). It would not be unreasonable to drink the Kosher cuvée now, but to hold the regular cuvée for another three or four years. The comparison is a fascinating demonstration of how every aspect of winemaking impacts the wine.

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15 thoughts on “Is Pontet Canet 2004 the Best Kosher Wine Out There?

  1. There are many good Kosher wines today selling as non Kosher wines in some chains. Trader Joes carry some and also Whole Foods Market. Their Deccolio Prosecco which was one of their top 10 for last summer is Kosher and even Mevushal (pasteurized). You should try this one, it may revert your childhood trauma 🙂

    • A Mevushal wine is more likely to bring on nightmares; hard to believe wine character can survive the necessary level of pasteurization. Isn’t the concept of a top-level Kosher wine a bit contradictory? If you drink, for example, Grand Cru Classe Medocs, you are by definition prepared to drink non Kosher wine. If you drink only Kosher wine, you will almost never be able to try a Grand Cru Classe. So it is a Catch-22.

      • Never be able too drink GranCru Classe’ quality Hmm.
        Smith Havt Lafite 2009 = Kosher Run, Chateau Malartic 2005 = Kosher Run,
        2006 Domaine Roses Camille Pomerol = all Kosher(top 100 of all Bordeaux rated), 2010 Chateau Lafond Roche’ = Kosher Run, 2003 Chateau Giscours = Kosher Run and so many more. With 95+ point wines coming from Parker, 93’s from Squires & many more wines from Israel (Yatir 2003 = 93 Points, Shiloh Legend 93 Points), Spain(Peraj Ha’Abib 2008?) = 95, France(SHL = 100 Point wine), Italy(Falesco 92) and such by many other writers. Please… people should know that the market of these wines is exploding, the talent making these top notch wines is at the level of the greatest in the World and not to be fooled by the Generations past of sweet gook being the standard at all.

      • Okay, so I take back “never” — you can drink Kosher wine at this level, but it’s a pitifully inadequate representation of one of the greatest wine areas on earth. The interest in Bordeaux at this level is being able to compare the chateaux and communes: a choice of half a dozen Kosher wines is too small to be interesting. I stick to my point that to go to this level, you have to be pretty interested in wine, which by definition means that you are drinking wines other than Kosher. So it’s hard to see the point of going Kosher. And furthermore, as I discovered with Pontet Canet, the Kosher cuvee is not exactly the same as the regular bottling.

      • Your uninformed writing about kosher wine—including why it needs to be kosher, the effects of the mevushal process, and the scope of the market—can very well be a reason why kosher wines are as limited as they are.
        The kosher wine community would greatly appreciate a follow-up post investigating these matters. I’m sure you’d be surprised at how good the wines can be, even mevushal ones. Articles like this are another thing that give Bordeaux Chateaux pause before agreeing to do a kosher Cuvee.
        It behooves an expert such as yourself to do the requisite research before publishing such an article.

      • Informed criticism is always welcome, but you give no reason to invalidate my view that Kashrus should be an irrelevance for wine, nor do you provide any argument against the (widely accepted) notion that pasteurization destroys (mevushal) wine. Indeed I think Bordeaux chateaux should hesitate before entering this market, because it is certainly not worth making compromises that might change the characters of their wines. The fact is that any wine made in a natural way will be intrinsically Kosher as it comes more or less directly from the grapes, the only exception being the need to ensure that no nonKosher products are used in fining or filtration. Unless and until I see an argument against this, I stick to my view that the concept of Kosher wine for ordinary consumption is meshuge.

      • As your comment below shows, you find the rules regarding kosher wine to be absurd. (That’s fine, many people find kosher in general to be absurd.) Nothing you say is going to change people’s minds on that, so it needs to be dealt with as a “given”, this is the field that we’re playing it. Anyway it’s really irrelevant to the quality of the wine.
        The mevushal process is a different story, that changes the character of the wine, not always for the worse, it’s more just different. Hagafen has been making their wines mevushal for years, while I’m not a huge fan of scores, Wine Enthusiast just gave 89 of them to Herzog Variations 5, it compares quite nicely to the wines it’s listed next to. There are plenty more examples to show that a mevushal wine isn’t guaranteed to be bad.
        I agree the Bordeaux Chateaux should hesitate before making kosher versions of their wines. But if they’re all allocated to shops where they’ll be bought by the kosher consumers (which seems to be the case), most people won’t even know they exist. So the potential for damage seems minimal. Yes, an educated writer such as yourself may get ahold of a bottle, but you clearly know the difference.
        Being that you’re Jewish I’d recommend studying the rules of kosher wine, not to change your mind in any way, but just so you understand. You may not agree with the reasons, but at least you’ll understand the playing field.
        You Tweeted that this was your first kosher wine in 50 years. Much has changed since then, much more than kosher Pontet-Conet. That’s what most of the comments here are taking issue with, you effectively wrote an article from your childhood point of view. I’d suggest going to this http://kedemeurope.com/kfwe2015/ and then writing an article about kosher wine…

      • Yes, I think it is a pity that almost all of the comments deal with what was an aside about the relevance of Kosher wine, as opposed to the issue of what the wine tastes like. My point about Pontet Canet was that the Kosher cuvee isn’t exactly the same as the regular cuvee, which may not be important to a consumer who drinks only Kosher wine, but does seem relevant to anyone who is interested in Medoc wines as such. (Personally I’m inclined to wonder if this shows the importance of Petit Verdot as a “spice” element.) However, I have not tasted all the vintages in which Pontet Canet made Kosher wine, and winemaker Jean-Michel Comme says that, “both wines were not exactly the same but not far from each other; sometimes one was better, sometimes the other was”, so my view of this particular comparison could be different in a different year.

        Actually I was exaggerating when I said my last Kosher wine was fifty years ago, but it is true that I have had few Kosher wines apart from those made specifically for sacramental purposes, which have truly been pretty bad. I am sure Kosher wines (aside from the “traditional” sacramental wines) have improved, as have all wines, but I find it hard to see the point as an informed consumer, and that’s really the perspective of the blog. My childhood impressions were actually favorable at the time when the wines were consumed, as those sweet wines were actually very suitable for children!

      • I think that’s because you opened your article with a paragraph about the kosher laws. 🙂
        To pick on one thing, I want to point out that the “traditional” (I like that you put it in quotes, American grapes are far from traditional to Jews) non-vinifera wines are often considered inferior for ritualistic use.

  2. really sad article, shows ignorance on the history of wine in Jewish lives, and the essential difference between orange juice and wine, is as clear as day and night

    • The history of wine in Jewish lives isn’t really the issue though, is it? The question is whether (outside of sacramental purposes), wine should require special treatment in order for it to be regarded as Kosher for it to be acceptable to the observant. It is surely taking things to excess, perhaps even to the level of fanaticism, to require winemaking to be undertaken only by observant male Jews. And the obvious difference between orange juice and wine is that the latter is fermented and matured, which certainly introduces possibilities for difficulties with Kashrus that need to be handled. But to surround wine for every day purposes with this religious aura is surely excessive, to put it mildly.

  3. Wow! I haven’t read anything so closed-minded in a long time. Kashrus is a set of rules. You don’t get to pick and choose which of them make sense to you. Wine handled by anyone other than observant Jews is no more kosher than pork. That’s the rule. If you want to undestand the reasoning behind the rules, it behooves you to open your mind and inquire, rather than making silly assumptions based on nothing more than sheer ignorance. If you weren’t Jewish, anyone reading this would conclude that you’re anti-Semitic.

    • I suppose I have should have known better than to suppose any quasi-rational discussion would be possible once religion is mentioned. It is surely close to hysteria for a comment on the interpretation of Kashrus to elicit hostility along the lines of “If you weren’t Jewish, anyone reading this would conclude that you’re anti-Semitic.” Sadly, I have to say that this is the sort of comment that makes it more difficult to eliminate anti-Semitism.

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