WINE IS INTEGRAL TO CHANUKAH/HANUKKAH CELEBRATIONS

This time of year, it seems customary for wine writers to publish their recommendations for the upcoming holidays. I’m usually not much for following the pack but, in this case, I think it’s a public service to continue the practice.

Usually this means the Christmas holidays but this column focuses on Chanukah (or Hanukkah). The eight-day holiday, also called the Festival of Lights, runs this year from December 12-20. It celebrates a victory of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BCE over their Greek/Syrian enemies and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying armies.

And my focus is even more specific to kosher wines from Israel. Many people choose to serve wines that are kosher-certified on Jewish holidays like Passover, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), and Chanukah. Though historically relegated to a kosher aisle in liquor stores, the country’s wines have improved significantly in recent years and increasingly can stand on their own as fine wines.

With a winemaking heritage for more than 5,000 years, Israel had only about 20 table-wine producers ten years ago. Today, there are more than 200 wineries and the largest 17 are all kosher. Mostly European grape varieties – such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, syrah, and grenache – are used.

Kosher wine is made in the same way as other wine. The distinction is that there are strict purity guidelines requiring rabbinical oversight during the whole process from the moment the grapes enter the winery to when the wine is bottled and Sabbath-observant Jews must handle the wine. Any ingredients used, including yeasts and fining agents, must be kosher.

Technically, as I understand it, to retain its kosher status (usually labeled on bottles as Kosher for Passover), a wine must be opened, served and drunk by Sabbath-observant Jew. So, there is a second type of kosher wine labeled “meshuval” that allows non-observant Jews and non-Jews to handle the bottle and share with observant Jews. The one difference with this type of kosher wine is that it is “flash pasteurized.” When applied properly, this gentle form of heating the wine sterilizes it without harming quality.

In the past, the wines actually were boiled (mevushal translates as cooked) and that process did negatively affect the wine. Thanks to flash pasteurization producers can make mevushal wines without tasting as if they’ve been boiled.

So, what to drink with the classic Chanukah dishes? It took me some research but these are sample pairings I recommend. (For more suggestions, Golan Heights and Galil Mountain wineries offer a Middle Eastern food and wine-pairing guide at http://bit.ly/2mkmjVE.)

First, recognize the most traditional Chanukah foods are fried in oil. This commemorates the Biblical story in which a one day supply of olive oil lasted the Maccabees eight days and nights, long enough for more oil to be pressed, when they reclaimed the Holy Temple.

 

Potato Latkes, with their sour cream and applesauce are earthy, tangy, creamy, and sweet. Pair with crisp white wines like the off-dry 2015 Nik Weis Gefen Hashalom German Riesling ($19). An unoaked Chardonnay or Prosecco are good alternatives.

Potato Kugel is more savory and eggy; so a lighter red like the 2014 Teperberg Impression Merlot ($18) for its graceful palate, solid plum and foresty berry fruit, works nicley. Pinot Noir or a dry white wine also are good choices.

 

For the main course, brisket appears to be the most popular, while pot roast and short ribs also make appearances. A rich, full-bodied red like the 2014 Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon Appellation Series ($20), with its vibrant red fruits buttressed with firm tannins is sure to satisfy. Other good options are wines based on zinfandel, syrah, grenache, or malbec. If you prefer a softer, sweeter red, the 2016 Carmel Mediterranean Blend Selected Series should do it. Planning a roast chicken? Try Beaujolais or a Cabernet Franc.

Sufganiyot (jelly donut) is the most common dessert choice. For this and other desserts, I’d suggest sparkling wine, especially off-dry styles like Demi-Sec, Prosecco, or artisan Lambrusco. If you must have sweet wine even with sweet foods, the luscious and sweet apple of the($20) from Clarksburg in California is ideal, and only 8.5 percent alcohol.

Other reliable Israeli wineries you are likely to find represented on your local store shelves include Golan Heights, Yarden, Gamla, and Galil Mountain. This column has focused on Israeli wines but there are fine kosher wines made in many places around the world. Just a few prominent examples include Hagafen, Covenant and Baron Herzog in California; Kedem in New York: Château Malarctic LaGraviere, Cuvee Centenaire, Louis Blanc, and Pascal Bouchard in France; Clos Mesorah and Capçanes in Spain; Bartenura in Italy; and Goose Bay in New Zealand.

 

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.