Cooking to the Wine: Covenant Neshama Sonoma County with Smoky Beef Goulash

At the end of October I tagged along with my friend Kristin on a tour and tasting of Covenant Wines, an urban winery in Berkeley, California. It turned out to be such a great visit!

Covenant also happens to be kosher. If the thought of kosher wine leads you straight to thoughts of Manischewitz, get those images right out of your head. These wines have nothing to do the sweet, syrupiness of Manischewitz. These are beautiful, classically made wines; they’re just also kosher.

Convenant Winery , Berkeley
Convenant Winery , Berkeley
Shots of Covenant's 7,000 square foot facility in Berkeley, California.

I’m not Jewish, so the kosher aspect wasn’t the draw for me. I’d heard really good things about their wines from a couple of friends. We also sell a couple of their wines at Bay Grape and they’re lovely. I was really just interested in checking out their wines and operation.

Kristin noses a barrel sample.
Now while the kosher aspect wasn’t the draw, I did find their way of handling the kosher requirements (specifically the mevushal requirements) interesting. Before we get there though, let’s take a quick look at what ‘kosher wine’ means. There are a few levels on the kosher scale. Here’s a quick recap, in case you’re a Gentile like me and you're unfamiliar or you're Jewish and just need a refresher:

•    Kosher: First up, to be kosher wine must be made up of all kosher ingredients. There really aren’t any non-kosher items among the list of required ingredients for wine, so that isn’t typically a big problem. (There are a few things that can be used as clarifying agents and such that would potentially fall into this category, but they’re pretty easily avoided.) The bigger factor according to kashrut law (Jewish dietary law) concerns who handles the wine. Only Sabbath-observant Jews can handle the wine–from crushing to bottling.

•    Kosher for Passover: Now if you keep kosher and want to have a glass of wine with your Passover Seder dinner, the wine needs to go one step up. Wines that are kosher for Passover must have been kept free from contact with chametz – a product that is made from one of five types of grain and has become leavened. This would include grain, bread, and dough.

•    Mevushal: This literally means “cooked.” According traditional Jewish law, if a wine is served by a non-Jewish server, it is no longer kosher. Therefore, if you want to have kosher wine in a mixed company setting–restaurants, weddings, parties, etc–you need to go up another level. Mevushal wines have been heated to a point that allows them to keep their kosher status, no matter who has handled them.  (If you’re interested in knowing more about the tradition and the ‘why’s’ of it all, l found this engaging article on The downside to this, of course, is that cooking a wine is a really good way to make taste pretty awful. Nowadays, there are ways around this. Most typically, the wine will be flash pasteurized, which heats the wine very quickly for 15 to 30 seconds.

Covenant uses a technique called flash détente (which literally translates ‘instant relaxation’) to make their mevushal wines, a process that was developed to improve color extraction. In this process fully ripe, crushed, and destemmed grapes are rapidly heated to 160°F-200°F (achieving pasteurization) for a minute or less and then immediately put under vacuum. In the vacuum, the grape skins rupture and the structure of the grapes’ skin cells are broken down, thereby releasing color components (anthocyanins), as well as aroma compounds.

The technique was originally developed to extract flavors out of fruits, however, France’s INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) then applied the technology to wine in the early 1990’s. The use of the vacuum differentiates it from other forms of flash pasteurization or thermovinification.

The process wasn’t developed for the purposes of making kosher wine, but it accomplishes the goal quite nicely. Flash détente has other benefits as well. It doesn’t over-extract harsh tannins, as some other methods of extracting color from grapes have a tendency to do. It also turns out to reduce pyrazines, compounds which contribute to green, bell pepper flavors and aromas in certain grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc (they’re all related). Also, by killing off microbes in the wine, you reduce the possibility of off flavors.

To their knowledge, they’re the only ones making wines from 100% grapes that have gone through flash détente–typically it’s used for a portion of a blend. According to the crew at Covenant the only real downside is that they have found that their mevushal wines don’t age quite as well as the rest of their wines. Therefore, they’re intended to be drunk young.

(Ok, I realize that this is all pretty geeky. However, if you want to geek out even more, check out this article on and this product sell sheet I found describing the technology. I found the “flash water” section on the article particularly interesting.)
The full line of Covenant Wines.
Covenant makes both mevushal and non-mevushal wines and there are really beautiful wines among all the offerings. And again, it was such a fun visit. I turned out to have a lot in common with co-owner Jeff Morgan–he also worked at Wine Spectator and is also very interested in food and wine pairing. He and his wife Jodie (who is also a co-owner) have written eight cookbooks together!

I really want to thank Jeff, general manager Sagie Kleinlerer, and winemaker Jonathan Hadju for a wonderful visit, as well as Kristin for letting me tag along. (Be sure to check out Kristin's site Nourish.)

Kristin and I with Covenant Wines Co-Owner Jeff Morgan.


Photo credit on all of the food and wine shots: Greg Hudson. The bottle of Neshama was provided as a sample.

And now it’s time for a little soul. (That’ll make sense in a sec.)

Today’s wine is Covenant’s Neshama Sonoma County 2014. It’s a blend of Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Syrah (60/30/10). Neshama means “soul” or “spirit” in Hebrew and it’s made by selecting the winery’s favorite barrels out of Sonoma (from grapes other than Cab) to create a wine that reflects the “soul” of the vintage.

I loved this wine and brought it home from the visit to the winery. (Full disclosure, it was given to  me as a sample at the winery. Please note, however, that all opinions are my own.) I sat down with Greg to taste it again and to plan a dish to pair with it that same evening. The wine had a mix of red and black fruits–berries, dark plum sauce, and black cherries. There were hints of spice along with smoked paprika, and mix red pepper and green peppercorns. Light herbals notes of bramble and tomato leaf added interest, along with a smoky meaty quality. There were substantial tannins, but they were supple, and while it’s a big wine it had enough acidity to back it up. It was velvety with a long finish.

Given that this wine was quite bold, we thought it would be perfect for a really meaty dish. It was a chilly night and something warm and cozy seemed in order. Plus, something “soulful” seemed right in line with the wine. Greg had been craving goulash (Hungarian beef stew seasoned with paprika and other spices) for a while and that actually seemed like a perfect match for the deep, smoky flavors in the wine.

I looked at several recipes in creating this goulash for reference, including this one from, among others. I decided to play the smoky qualities up further by combining some smoked paprika with the usual sweet paprika. A smattering of herbs brought out those hints in the wine. We also found that adding a little cocoa rounded out and deepened all the flavors.

When making a stew, most recipes will have you put mirepoix veggies in a stew at the beginning, strain them out, then add new ones in the final phase of cooking, once the first batch has become mushy. This is also the method I was taught in culinary school. Honestly, I get not wanting to have the mushy vegetables, but at the same time it’s such a pain in the butt to strain them out. It also seems a little wasteful to me.

I developed a little technique of my own to skip this step. I pull out the chunks of meat–they tend to be bigger and are much easier to fish out than all the veg–then I use an immersion blender to smooth out the veggies. This helps create a thicker consistency without making a roux out of extra butter or flour. I then just add the meat back in with the new veggies and keep on cooking. I find it a whole lot easier and nothing goes to waste. One more shortcut–I often use baby carrots in stews when I don’t feel like chopping as much. Obviously, cutting up whole carrots work as well.

The wine and the goulash danced together. It was seamless pairing. The wine really picked up the paprika and herbs in the sauce and brought those qualities out further. The wine even seemed more structured with the stew; in particular, an extra level of brightness came out in the wine.

A hearty, thick piece of bread to soak up all the sauce is the perfect final accessory to the meal.



The grapes for this wine are sourced from various vineyards in Sonoma County. The winery has long-standing relationships with growers in Bennett Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Dry Creek Valley, and Sonoma Valley, as well as in Napa and Lodi for their other wines.

Production notes taken from the tech sheet:

•    All native yeast fermentation.
•    Native malolactic fermentation
•    Unfined and unfiltered
•    Aged for 18 months in 100% French Oak (30%new)
•    169 cases produced

This wine is Kosher for Passover.


The SRP on the Neshama is $72, which is definitely a Splurge. However, it drinks beautifully and I would say this is still competitive with other top tier wines from Sonoma and Napa.

That said the winery makes quite a few other wines at less expensive price points. I highly recommend The Tribe Chardonnay. It’s wonderfully balanced and elegant Chard and has an SRP of  $32.


This is a big, bold stew and can handle a big, bold wine–bring out the big guns. I think the spice factor that tends to come from oak treatment in the New World reds works well here. (Within reason, that is–-I don’t care for wines that are over-oaked to the point you feel like you’re tasting a piece of wood.) It can also handle substantial tannins, but ideally the tannins are ripe and sweet. Warmer Old World reds from areas like Ribera del Duero or the Douro should also work well.

Let me know if you find another pairing you love with this!

Add caption


Smoky Beef Goulash



3 lbs stewing beef, cubed
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
Approximately 8 baby carrots diced, plus 2 cups whole baby carrots
2 peppers, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup sweet paprika
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp flour
2 tomatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp dried thyme or a couple of sprigs
Parsley, 3 or 4 stems, plus about ¼ cup chopped leaves for garnishing
1 Tbsp umami paste (or substitute tomato paste)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of allspice
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
4 cups (1 quart) beef stock
1 lb waxy potatoes, halved or quartered (depending on the size of potatoes)
Cooking oil


1. Preheat oven to 300°F.

2. Heat a small amount of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Season beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear all of the meat until browned on two sides, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer to another plate and set aside.

3. Add the onions, celery, diced carrots, peppers, and garlic to the pan and cook until all the veggies are all softened and lightly browned–about 10 to 12 minutes. Add in all the paprika and the flour and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, umami paste, Worcestershire sauce, allspice, cocoa powder, a pinch of salt and pepper and the beef stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

4. Add in the beef chunks along with any juices and stir to combine. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 90 minutes or until beef is starting to become tender. (Note: The liquid should remain at a slow simmer the entire time. Adjust the oven temperature if needed.

5. Remove the pot from oven. Scoop out the beef cubes bay leaves, thyme, and parsley sprigs, transfer to a bowl, and keep covered. Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender) to blend the vegetables until completely smooth.

6. Return the beef to the pot. Add in the potatoes and reserved carrots to the stew, partially cover (to allow for some evaporation so the stew can thicken) and return to the oven. Continue to cook until beef, potatoes, and carrots are tender and broth has thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

7. Remove the stew from oven. Using a ladle, skim off any excess fat from the surface of the stew and discard the herbs. If the liquid still seems a bit thin, continue to cook the stew on the stove at a simmer to reduce to desired consistency. Tastes and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve sprinkled with parsley leaves.

This weekend the Wine Pairing Weekend Crew will be looking at the wine scene of Sonoma County, California. Look for the group's posts and social media shares with the hashtag #SonomaStrong to raise awareness of fire relief efforts throughout Sonoma. 

My last post happens to also have been a Sonoma wine, so be sure to check that out: Cooking to the Wine: Bouchaine Rock'n H Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with Blackened Five-spice Duck. In a few weeks, I'll be doing an additional #SonomaStrong Week, so keep an eye out for that as well. 

In addition you can join the group for a discussion on the topic on Twitter at 11 am ET/ 8 am PT on Saturday, January 13th. Look for the #WinePW hashtag as well as #SonomaStrong.

Be sure to check out the group's posts:

    And here’s a bit of exciting news–I'm headed to Israel on a press trip. I’m actually leaving today and am so excited! I’ll be reporting back soon with what I discover of the vineyards and wines I have a chance to visit while there. In the meantime, follow along on Instagram! (I'll be posting from here as well as from @NibblingGypsy.)
    One final picture just because.



    1. What an interesting article. I never knew that there were religious restrictions on the wine that Jewish people could consume. I also really love the tip about pureeing the veggies into the sauce for your stew.

      1. Thanks Wendy. The restrictions really only affect those who keep Kosher. And for the rest of us, it's just good wine (provided it's a quality producer like this one.) And I really do like that trick of pureeing the veggies as well!

    2. I really enjoyed reading this, Nicole. It had a little bit of everything - history, culture, wine geekery, and delicious food! I’ve been seeing a lot about kosher wines in the press lately, so it’s helpful to know what the term actually means. Have a fantastic trip to Israel!

      1. Thanks so much Lauren! Really glad you enjoyed it. And trip was amazing!

    3. That looks like an amazing meal.! Thanks for the info on Kosher. it is definitely something I need to explore. I don't think I have ever had one.

    4. Looks like a great meal for the Neshama wine. I do have a question for you: what makes a goulash vs a stew, daube, or braise? I love those slow cooked winter meals (LOTS of opportunities in MN) and I'm curious about the history!

      1. Good question, Jeff, and I've gone back and added a very brief explanation. Goulash is a type of beef stew of Hungarian origin. In my mind the defining characteristic of the stew is the spice blend which relies heavily on paprika.

    5. Pretty sure I've never made goulash or had kosher wine. I will have to fix that soon.

    6. What a delicious pairing! I don't like to was the veggies used making the stew, either. Good idea to puree them. Sounds like a great wine!

    7. , which became more muted after I began to pick up on the fruit flavours. This drink brought us back to mulled wine, as it could even be a good fit for warming up in a pot during the winter.


    Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!