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Add Spanish flair this Passover

Passover is a time when Jews around the world remember the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. A ritual dinner or seder has for millennia been central to Passover observances. Wine plays a major role in the seder, with four cups of wine drunk at various points in the meal.

Consider pouring a kosher-for-Passover wine from Spain at your seder.

Kosher wine is a fledging but growing segment of the Spanish wine industry. Here in the United States, consumer interest in Spanish wine remains red-hot, thanks to the pleasant fact that Spanish winemakers tend to produce great stuff and sell it at affordable prices. There's no reason to switch away from Spanish wines at Passover, especially if that means stepping back to the sweet Concord wines of old.

"With Spanish wines you can get something that's interesting without paying $80 a bottle," said Scott Schumaker, wine manager of Hungarian Kosher Foods. The store, based in Skokie, Ill., has the nation's largest inventory of kosher wines, which also are sold online at www.kosherwine.com.

"Sometimes you have to pay a lot for something cool and off the beaten path," he added. "Spanish wines can give you something different but reasonable."

The question may be in finding the wine.

There are only a handful of kosher wine producers in Spain producing a couple of thousand cases each year, said Aron Ritter, president of the Kosher Wine Society in New York City. Yet, he said, these wines are worth searching out because they deliver on quality.

"There are some phenomenal Spanish kosher wines out there," Ritter said, noting the wines would work well with the foods traditionally served at a Passover seder.

Another reason to pour a Spanish kosher wine at Passover is its symbolism.

Passover represents freedom, redemption and survival. The Jewish community in Spain vividly embodies all three of these elements.

Jews were infamously expelled from the kingdom in 1492. Scattered across the Mediterranean, Europe and northern Africa, these Spanish Jews and their descendants, who became known as "Sephardim," retained their identity and their traditions. Those who remained behind in Spain were forcibly converted or had to worship in secret.

More than 500 years later, the tragic story remains fresh, as the Web site of Elvi Wines, a kosher wine company, makes clear.

"We are very proud to be one of the very few families that since 1492 has had the privilege of dedicating ourselves exclusively to viticulture and the production of kosher wines," the site reads. "Our challenge has been and continues to be the marriage of quality with one of the most venerated traditions ever documented in the Mediterranean."

Consider also the story of Capcanes, described in its winery literature as a "small Catholic village" hidden high up in the mountains. The town's wine cooperative, founded in 1933, "gets emancipated" in the mid-1990s from being a boring bulk wine and grape producer by creating an excellent kosher wine at the request of the Jewish community in Barcelona.

Making a kosher wine meant changes: new machinery, a focus on higher-grade fruit. The resulting wine, branded as Flor de Primavera, is considered among the finest in Spain. Kosher wine is only 2.5 percent of Capcanes' production but it jump-started the brand toward better quality.

"It's a beautiful story," Ritter said.

The Tasting

These three kosher-for- Passover wines from Spain offered plenty of flavor for a very moderate price; the most expensive was $19. All deserve a place at the Passover table. The wines are non-mevushal, meaning they must be handled or poured only by Sabbath-observant Jews to retain their "kosherness."

Why only three? Kosher wine from Spain is a growing business but is still something of a niche item. More were available, but they were additional bottlings from wineries already represented in the tasting.

Have fun digging out your own kosher Spanish faves from your local wine shop or liquor store. If your search turns up fruitless, consider ordering online, if your state law allows it.

2004 Elvi Wines Ness

From the Ribera del Jucar region in north central Spain, this international-style red is a mix of 50 percent tempranillo, 20 percent bobal, 20 percent syrah and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The nose is subtle: salt, hay, smoke, dried strawberries. A pleasing minerality and a tannic pucker on the finish balance the dark fruits and earthy spices. $15 3 corkscrews

2005 Ramon Cardova Rioja

This wine comes from Rioja, the famed wine region near the Ebro River in northern Spain. Made entirely from tempranillo grapes, the red has a delicate aroma of prunes. The flavor offers up red fruit, wood and black pepper, and there's a satisfying smack of acidity to the finish. $15 2 corkscrews

2006 Peraji Petita Montsant

Montsant is a wine region in northeastern Spain to the west of Barcelona. This wine is a blend of garnacha (also known as grenache), samso (a.k.a. carignan) and ull de llebre ("eye of the rabbit," the Catalan name for tempranillo) grapes. Expect cherry on the nose and palate, with touches of spice and violets. $19 2 corkscrews

Sources: These wines may or may not be in stock at your local store; inquire first. At least one of these wines was found at these stores: Binny's Beverage Depot. Sam's Wines & Spirits, Hungarian Kosher Foods in Skokie. Prices may vary from store to store. Prices are rounded off.

Ratings 4 corkscrews: Excellent 3 corkscrews: Very good 2 corkscrews: Good 1 corkscrew: Fair No corkscrews: Poor