What To Drink With Your Brisket
A review of the Dalton Zinfandel 2010 and some suggestions for Passover libations.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week March 20, 2013
Though the Passover seder has firmly established millennia old rules, rituals and traditions – the very word “seder” means “order” or “arrangement” – after all, the Jewish way is to conduct the night’s proceedings with highly personalized, family specific, customs and practices. This is especially true for the menu, which may run the gamut from cherished family recipes, to the latest cookbook concoctions, to professional catering, to potluck. Invariably one of the most traditional foods – at least among Ashkenazi Jews, is beef brisket. This, alone, seems subject to countless variations.
Finding a wine to pair with any particular brisket recipe can be tricky, since the particular spices, sauce or preparation may very well overwhelm certain delicate wine aromas and flavors. Yet, some wines lend themselves to this sort of challenge. A good choice to consider is a bold and fruity Zinfandel with mild tannins and plenty of spice, like the nonmevushal, Israeli Dalton Zinfandel 2010, from vineyards among the Galilean foothills of Mount Meron. Also containing 13 percent Petite Sirah, this medium-bodied effort begins with currant and red berry aromas that are joined by black plum, raspberry, clove, cinnamon and vanilla oak accents. The balanced acidity, soft tannins and lengthy finish accented with hints of earth and leather make this an excellent choice for the seder.
Spirits-wise, it’s time for us to consider some kosher for Passover options – but first, it behooves us to highlight a local event that took place this past Sunday at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac.
The event, billed as “Rabbi Antine’s 3rd Annual Guys Night Out & Seder Summit”, not only brought 350 men from across the Jewish communal spectrum, and from all around the Greater Washington area (and beyond), for some pre-Passover learning and socializing – but it also featured a tasting of more than 20 different whiskies (most of which we’ve favorably reviewed in this space before, and the rest of which we’ll review sometime after Pesach), and some awesome barbecue beef ribs and fried chicken. The event was, from our perspective, a huge success and great fun.
So as not to needlessly tease any who did not make it to the event this year, we’ll not list all of the whiskies here – but a special shout out to the whisky companies for their generosity and appreciation seems most appropriate (in alphabetical order of the parent companies that donated all this fine hooch). To: Christina from Beam, Inc., Robin from Campari America, Edward of Castle Brands Inc., Scott from the Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Ewan from Diageo North America PLC, Jason from the Jewish Whisky Company, Shlomo from Medek Wine & Spirits, and last, but certainly not least, David from Moet Hennessy USA. Thank you all very, very much for helping to make this event terrific fun!
OK, so now for some kosher for Passover spirits. As we’ve noted before, there are some truly fine certified kosher-for-Passover spirits available these days and, as we’ve also noted before, nongrain-based spirits cannot and should not be presumed to be acceptable as kosher for Passover just because they claim to be 100 percent fruit- or vegetable-based.
After all, this biblically mandated holiday only lasts eight days for us, so proper kosher-for-Passover certification really isn’t a huge burden. More to the point, given the many industry accepted unlabeled processes that actually involve chametz, it really is generally necessary to be certain your tipple is fit for a kosher Passover home or table. It isn’t a matter of money for kashrus agencies, but really a matter of understanding how food science complicates what otherwise seems simple.
For example, it is often thought that any 100-percent potato vodka should automatically be acceptable for Passover, since potato is not a grain. While potato vodka is a good candidate for being made kosher for Passover, for that to happen, the distiller would have to use only a kosher-for-Passover source for amylase, the enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of starch into sugar for fermentation. This is very often done with small amounts of malted barley, which is most definitely chametz, as an essential and normative part of the process, the resulting spirit cannot be said to be fully acceptable. Not to mention the equipment in most distilleries is used for lots of different spirits which nearly always involve definite chametz. So at a minimum, before buying whatever it is you think would be acceptable without certification, we strongly recommend checking with your friendly neighborhood, or preferred, kashrut authority or rabbi.
Without further ado, here are some great options to imbibe this Passover or year-round (we’ll review a few more options next week, too):
No. 209 Kosher for Passover Gin (40 percent abv; $40): Smooth, fragrant and tasty with traditional notes of juniper berry and citrus fruit, an herbal element lurks in the depths, and with a pleasing dollop of spice (like coriander and allspice), and a subtle undercurrent of sweetness. Complex and delicious. No. 209 Kosher for Passover Vodka (40 percent abv; $30): This is basically the gin without the herbs, spices and botanicals for added flavor. It is a clean, burn-free, faultless neutral spirit distilled from sugar cane. It is great vodka, and like all quality vodka is notable mostly for the subtleties of its otherwise tasteless and odorless delivery. A solid choice.
Zachlawi Vodka (40 percent abv; $35): This explicitly Russian-styled vodka is crisp, refined, faultless, and delivers nicely. Another winning choice. Los Arango 100% Agave Reposado Tequila (40 percent abv; $45+): Named for Pancho Villa, this lovely silver tequila is complex, smooth and creamy, with aromas and flavors of green vegetables, brine, chili peppers, and with slightly sweet notes on the mid-palate. Very nice.
Clear Creek Distillery Kirschwasser (40 percent abv; $30; 375ml bottle): Made from a mash of pure Oregon and Washington cherries, this artisanal, German-styled, brilliantly made Kirsch is just off-dry, creamy, complex, delicate and really lovely, with subtle but distinct notes of under-ripe cherry, vanilla and marzipan. A wonderful, refined digestif! Perhaps no Passover would be complete with Slivovitz. While the old rot-gut varieties are still out there, two lovely, refined options to consider are:
Clear Creek Distillery Slivovitz Blue Plum Brandy (40 percent abv; $30; 375ml bottle): made from Oregon grown Italian blue plums, this smooth, slightly off-dry, complex brandy offers notes of fresh, sweet, ripe plums and a little distinct pepperiness, with an absorbing, warm finish.
Mosby Kosher Plum Brandy Slivovitz (43.3 percent abv; $55): Made in California from locally sourced plums, this potent, deeply flavorful Slivovitz seems closer in kinship to the more traditional Eastern European brands, but oh, so much better! With heady aromas of pure plum, and more subtle notes of vanilla pudding, marzipan, overripe melon, and a little pepperiness to tickle the palate, this Slivovitz is fruity, floral, medium-to-full bodied and surprisingly complex. The finish is a tad hot, but satisfyingly so. L’Chaim!