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Queens gets first kosher wine store

Forget Manischewitz. The new kosher wine has gourmet credentials to compete with some of the world's best labels.

And hundreds of different kosher labels can now be found in Kew Gardens Hills at Hakerem Wine and Liquor, 141-22 Jewel Ave.

Owner Elan Shamsayev, 23, opened the store in January with the hopes of becoming the premier gourmet kosher wine retailer in Queens.

"A lot of kosher wines get great, great ratings," Shamsayev said, referring to wine publications like Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. "We have some of the better famous ones."

Shamsayev, a Fresh Meadows native, worked in his family's construction hardware business before he decided to turn his abiding love for wine and scotch into a livelihood. It took him two years to secure the necessary permits and set up the shop, which is decorated with faux grapevines and dark wood shelves.

The easiest part, he said, was the name: "Hakerem" means "vineyard" in Hebrew.

Shamsayev stocks hundreds of kosher wines ranging from $11 to about $200, as well as an impressive selection of single-malt scotches and vodkas. Most of these are also kosher.

So what is kosher wine? It is any wine made using kosher food practices, so long as practicing Jews handle each part of the production process. The market is growing and vineyards in countries like Spain, New Zealand and Italy are now producing kosher batches, sometimes employing specialized teams of traveling Jewish vintners.

Michael Rubin, a sales representative for Royal Wine Corp., the largest importer of Israeli wines in the country, said the popularity of fine kosher wine has evolved along with an increasingly globalized wine industry.

"In the 1800s, when Jews first started coming to this country, they found that Concord grapes grew in New York," he said. "That's all there was."

As transportation networks grew more advanced and inexpensive, more and more wines became available to people hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the vineyard, Rubin said, including the city's Jewish population.

Shamsayev said most of his wines come from Israel and California's Napa Valley.

But despite the growth of the gourmet kosher wine industry, many people only recall the thick, sugary taste of Manischewitz when they hear the phrase. Shamsayev hopes to overcome this with regular tastings, which he holds most Fridays.

"That's the only way you're going to educate the customer," he said.

So far, so good on that front, too.

"They're usually surprised, Shamsayev said. "It's usually one shelf in other stores."

For newcomers or non-oenophiles, Shamsayev recommends Bartinura, an Italian label, or Baron Herzog out of Napa. Good entry-level scotches include Glenn Ross and Glenlivet, he said.

"They're very smooth and easy on the palate," he said. "More advanced stuff is a lot more complex."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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