Sammy Davis Jr. may be credited with boosting the sales of kosher wine in the United States to its all-time high in 1981.
The late entertainer's commercials for Manischewitz Cream White Concord pushed kosher wine sales to 3.2 million cases, almost all of it sweeter wines.
Today about 1.1 million cases of kosher wine are sold in the United States, about 50% of it is dry.
I evaluated about three dozen kosher wines for this column and found the broad range of them to be much better than in the past. The following wines were among the best I tasted. They are ranked in categories by style. Prices are suggested retail; some may be found discounted.
Lighter White Wines:
1990 Weinstock Chardonnay ($8.50): Floral, pineapple-like, fresh with a delicate and soft though flavorful aftertaste.
1990 Hagafen Pinot Noir Blanc ($6): Mild cherry-like aroma with faint earthiness; slightly sweet wine that's easy to drink.
1990 Weinstock White Zinfandel ($6): Cherries and berries in a light floral aroma; soft, fairly sweet but with ample acidity. A nice quaff.
1990 Hagafen Johannisberg Riesling ($8.75): Explosive pear, apple and citrus notes in a sweeter (2% sugar) but intensely flavored wine. Truly delicious, though hard to match with food.
1990 Herzog White Zinfandel ($6): A cherry Jello kind of aroma, quite attractive, with flavor and sweetness. Not a food wine but a good aperitif.
1987 Gamla Chardonnay ($11): Lean, slightly peppery wine with an aged, dusty character. More like French white Burgundy, with a lean, crisp finish. Nice with food.
1990 Herzog Chardonnay ($10.50): Pineapple and pear aroma, a lean entry but soft, long, complex finish. Good value.
Richer White Wines:
1988 Gan Eden Chardonnay ($12): Citrus and light pineapple aromas, fairly spicy and complex; crisp, stylish fruit with a lean finish. Well made and complex.
1989 Hagafen Reserve Chardonnay ($17): Powerful, rich aroma of fruits (citrus and pear, among others) and a dose of toasty French oak and loads of richness in the finish, almost sweet.
Lighter Red Wines:
1989 Herzog Gamay ($6): Light cherry aroma; crisp, chillable red wine.
1989 Weinstock Gamay Beaujolais ($7): Fresh, berrylike fruit, dry, slightly simple.
1989 Golan Villages ($5): Fragrant Cabernet-like aroma, rich and full-flavored wine, a good value. (The wine is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon.)
1987 Golan Cabernet Sauvignon ($5.50): A rich berry-like aroma with concentration and depth; amply flavorful, gets better in the glass with aeration. An amazing value.
Rich Red Wines:
1990 Teal Lake Cellars Pinot Noir "Early Release" ($9): Stylishly fruity and relatively complex (though it was just bottled); a fairly concentrated cherry note should blossom with time in the bottle. A reserve bottling will be released later this year.
1988 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon ($20): Stunning wine with loads of cherry and spice elements, strong toastiness from French oak and an unctuous complex finish. Rich and powerful, it will improve for years in the bottle.
1986 Gan Eden Cabernet Sauvignon ($16): Dense chocolate and spice elements wrapped around a core of black cherry fruit. Very toasty from French oak. Limited availability.
1988 Yarden Merlot ($8): A faint green tea/sage component adds to a fleshy, full-bodied aroma of cherries and cassis. Not as dense a wine as the above Cabernets but wonderfully flavored with more fruit and a marvelously fruity-complex finish. Excellent value.
1986 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon ($11): Lighter and leaner than the Merlot, but with perfect varietal character, a trace of French oak and depth in the finish.
1989 Herzog Late Harvest Riesling ($7/half bottle): The best value in kosher wine I found. This is a densely flavored, unctuous dessert wine that has an intensely rich pear and apricot aroma and loads of complexity in the finish. With 19% residual sugar, it's dessert by itself.
Bartenura Asti Spumante ($13): Amazingly fresh lychee nut, carnation aroma with spicy finish. A wonderful example of Asti.