By: Yael E. Geller, MPH
There is no doubt that we are living in the golden era of kosher wines. The market is consistently growing and presently, there are three major regions producing a huge variety of kosher wines. These wines are challenging the kosher consumer to open their minds and palates to new flavors and ideas about the potential possibilities in kosher wines. There is no shortage of kosher wines on shelves from Israel, California and France, but you will also find a sprinkle of Spanish, Italian and Australian choices. France is perhaps the most intricate of all regions with many governing laws applicable to wine production and labeling.
Consumers often fumble over names of Chateaux and region, while consumers more familiar with wine are baffled deciphering what a left bank Margaux or Pauillac should smell like, or what a right bank Saint-Emilion or Pomerol should taste like on its tertiary notes after aging 15 years in the cellar. Much to my dismay, over the course of the development of the kosher Bordeaux market, there have been only a few select wineries producing kosher Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, a region in France. There have certainly been some contenders, but there can never be enough Pinot to satiate my cravings.
It seems as though my prayers have finally been answered by M & M Importers, headed up by Dr. Ralph Madeb and Mr. David Motovich. Some may see this dynamic duo as an unusual pair to start importing high-end kosher wines and approaching wineries to do kosher runs. It piqued my interest that a physician and a businessman would have any interest in this side of the wine industry. After meeting Madeb, I have learned that his love for wine is a fascination he inherited from his mother.
He also inherited his parents’ strong connection to France as both his parents spent a significant amount of time acquiring their education in France. Dr. Madeb grew up in a home where wine was always on the table, something many of us can relate to. The presence and fascination of wine continued throughout adulthood: official dinners, graduation parties, social gatherings all call for a fine wine that is the center of attention. Like many doctors before him, Madeb was bit by the “wine bug”. Through work and social events, there was constant exposure to the finest wines in the world but with limited kosher options, Madeb was left wishing for better variety and quality.
To add to the frustration, at the time it was also almost an everyday occurrence where the doctor was a recipient of a fine bottle of non-kosher wine such as Opus One, Screaming Eagle, or Chateau Latour from grateful patients; a bottle that was always left to be given away or re-gifted. After 12 years of this, the frustration fueled the dream to become a reality. He discussed his qualms with an old high school classmate of his wife’s and highly regarded businessman, David Motovich, and they drew up a business plan; Madeb had the vision and Motovich had the infrastructure and business smarts to make M & M Importers a fast growing contender in the kosher wine importing business and we are learning that they have a few surprises up their sleeves.
In exciting news to both Madeb and myself, we learned that there would be three new wines from Burgundy produced by the Aegerter winery. There is a new kosher Pommard, a Gevrey-Chambertin and a Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. It’s important to understand the geographical breakdown of Burgundy to truly comprehend what the wines are all about. The region of Burgundy is divided into five sub-regions, Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise & Mâconnais, which primarily produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The three Aegerter kosher wines are all made from Pinot Noir grapes sourced from different vineyards: the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Gevrey-Chambertain are from vineyards located in the Côtes de Nuits region and the Pommard is from a vineyard in the Beaune region.
This is the first time these wines are being produced kosher at this particular winery. This self-made winery is located in the Côtes de Beaune region and run by a father and son team, Jean- Luc and Paul Aegerter. The Aegerter’s have a simple philosophy when it comes to making wine, one shared by both Madeb and Motovic: the wines are meant to be “terroir” wines — true to their region with a very elegant, personalized Aegerter style.
The winery was founded in 1994 and continues to expand by adding another notch to its belt by breaking into the kosher niche market with a bang. Make no mistake, it is no easy task to take on a kosher Cuvée; it requires a lot of patience and coordination, not only with the Mashgiach (supervisors) from the kosher agency, but also in logistical terms. For instance, the winery had to purchase new unused top of the line equipment to maintain the high standards of production the Aegerter name is known for.
In a blind tasting, we sampled all three wines side by side. Initially, we noticed that there was more pronounced oak than we expected in these very young wines, which must be due to this vintage needing a new kosher barrel to age in. The winemakers prepare this new barrel with a special method in order for the oak to not overpower the nuances of flavors typical in Pinot Noir. This interesting feature in a somewhat newer barrel will also give the wines a bit longer of a shelf life. We had to extensively decant the wines to appreciate them fully in their youth. In short, the wines are incredibly beautiful and to our delight, they were delicious and full of typical Pinot Noir notes. The nose had a distinctive smell I always refer to as cigar box or cedar wood.
On the palate, the wines were showing juicy red fruits like cranberries or pomegranates and continued into some green herbaceous notes and then into some nice dirt and minerality — which I’d attribute to the iron rich clay soil gracing the Burgundy vineyards. Each wine has its own nuances, which further developed as we continued to decant the wines throughout the night and the following day and even one more day later. These wines are super complex and completely satiate my cravings for this varietal. Their longevity will impress with at least 10 years in the tank until peak, and, perhaps even longer due to the newer oak used on this vintage. Over all we were very impressed and look forward to this kosher addition to our dinner tables.
In addition to Aegerter’s kosher run, we can also look to M & M’s variety of high-end kosher reds. Madeb does note that it is not an easy task approaching wineries with a proposal to go kosher; but their method is pretty simple, “I want to produce kosher wines that I can serve to my most prestigious guests. I seek out wineries, I develop a relationship with them and more importantly, with the family with which the winery has been established. By building a relationship with the wineries and winemakers, I have so far been successful in producing a product which is indistinguishable from the non-kosher blend.”
Madeb goes on to explain that this is not only for his own purposes, but also for the winemaker to feel proud and comfortable that this label is true to its origin and the quality has not deviated. This type of relationship building is something that is second nature to Madeb and Motovich, but the duo claim they are not in this game to compete with larger players — their main objective is to raise the standard of kosher wines and give more options to those seeking it, especially among their friends and family. When asked why he started his educational pieces with the burgundy region, Madeb’s response comes from none other than the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte himself – “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”
Introducing guests to new fine wines has shown to be a highly successful endeavor for the pair; so much so that they have partnered with IDS and their manager Benjamin Uzan to bring more high-end kosher Cuvées to the States. It is not unusual for Madeb to help some of his Ashkenazi friends liquidate old vintages from their cellars, replacing them with newer and less commonly known wines. His hope is to encourage more Sephardic friends to create cellars and enjoy his wines at smachot and special occasions. I am really looking forward to some newer offerings coming from M & M in the coming months. “This endeavor of Madeb and Motovich is one I am happy to finally raise a glass of Gevrey-Chambertain to — L’chaim!