Hanukkah wine suggestions.
By Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week December 11, 2003
Wine makes an excellent Hanukkah gift. Easily wrapped and portable, there are wines for all tastes: dry or sweet, bubbly or still, red, white or even pink. “Around the world the quality of wines has improved dramatically,” said Jon Genderson, owner of Schneider’s Wine Store in Washington DC. “This is especially true for kosher wines.”
Say “kosher wine” and the first thing that comes to mind is a square bottle containing thick, deep purple sweet wine served by our grandmothers on Friday nights. But there are no specific halachic restrictions on the types of grapes that can be used to make kosher wine. The classic kosher wine is a result of geography not religious restrictions. Concord grapes from New York are very acidic and require sweetening to become palatable. Currently kosher wines are produced all over the globe including California, Hungary, South America, France, Italy and not surprisingly, Israel.
In reality, any type of grape can be used to make a kosher wine; it merely needs to be produced with adherence to specific rabbinic laws. Kosher wines require that the entire production, from crushing the grapes to bottling, must be under rabbinical supervision and performed only by observant Jews. Unopened bottles can be handled by anyone but non-Jews can only handle an open bottle if has been heated briefly in a process known as Mevushal. Using modern techniques, this heating usually does not affect the underlying flavors of the wine. In addition, only certified kosher products can be used (such as filtering agents and yeast) and no artificial preservatives or colors are allowed.
Over the past several years winemakers from around the world have been using various grapes and grape blends to produce new varieties of kosher wine. It is not unusual to see a bottle of kosher Merlot, Cabernet or Chardonnay next to the Seder plate or served with the latkes on Hannukah. A number of kosher wines have received high ratings by wine writers in blind tastings and can even be found on the wine list of some non-kosher restaurants. Kosher wines are now available to complement most every type of meal or occasion, from grilled steaks or fish to dessert. A Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay would pair well with foods cooked in oil such as potato latkes. For the brisket consider a hearty red wine such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.
For a fun gift try a sparkling wine such as the Rashi Moscato D’Asti. Produced in the Piedmont region of Italy from the Moscato grapes, this low-alcohol wine (only 5.5%) is wonderful to serve chilled as an aperitif when guests arrive or with dessert. Fruity and not too sweet with a light fizz (frizzante) it has nice flowery aromas. Another sparkler is the Tonnelli Asti which is made in Italy by a family who settled in the region after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Very sweet, it is for Asti fans, perhaps while sitting in a hot tub since it really won’t work well with food.
Another unusual gift is a dessert wine such as the Bauer Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling. Produced in New York State, the grapes are harvested after they have developed high amounts of sugar. This sweet dessert wine has a good balance of fruit and a nice finish and is great with chocolate and strawberries. The Dalton Muscat is another excellent dessert wine. Made in Israel just two miles from the border with Lebanon, this sweet wine was a gold medal winner at the Tasters Guild International. Honey and citrus flavors make this a good accompaniment to fruit tarts or sliced melon and berries.
Among the many quality kosher red wines are the Carmel Shiraz “Shomron” and Merlot “Dan” which are two “single vineyard” Israeli wines. The Israeli Shiraz made with 15 percent Petite Sirah and is softer and lighter than the Australian version because the Australian grapes are grown in a warmer climate. The 100% Merlot is grown in the Judean hills and fermented in steel tanks, not oak barrels. Both wines are excellent with meat dishes. Made in Italy, the Bartenura Chianti 2000 is produced from grapes harvested in the Castelboglione region of Tuscany. Chianti is a versatile, “food friendly” wine with lots of black cherry flavors and a good balance of acid that works well with meat and tomato based sauces.
Founded in 1985, Baron Herzog Wineries produce a number of different varietals from grapes grown in several areas of California. The Herzog Zinfandel “Lodi, Old Vines” is made from vines over 100 years old in the Lodi region. Like other Zins, it has the typical jammy taste with raspberries, plums and just enough spiciness to serve with meat, or veal.