On October 7th 2023, 1,200 Israelis were massacred in cold blood. They were slaughtered with maximum cruelty in their beds and in their homes. Whole families were brutally murdered including the elderly, women, children, even babies. Houses were burnt. Party revelers at a “Peace Festival” were gunned down in their hundreds. To put this into perspective 1,000 Israelis roughly relates to the equivalent of 35,000 Americans. More Jews were killed during the Simchat Torah Massacre than on any day since the Holocaust. 199 people were taken hostage including grandmothers in poor health, children and toddlers. After the carnage, over 3,000 remain injured. Many of them seriously. People often forget the ongoing price endured by the injured. Rehabilitation may take a long time, but the mental scars will be forever. In the years to come 10/7 will become as well known to Israelis and Jews worldwide, as 9/11 is to Americans (who, if you remember, put the month first).
The world is reeling from the extent of the atrocities and has expressed its revulsion. The writing was on the wall beforehand. The buildup, the failures on that fateful morning and the poor accountability and organization since, will be the subject of state commissions sooner or later when anger becomes greater than the shock and immediate grief. Now though it is a time for unity. There is a war to be won.
The positive side to the whole story has been the creativeness, energy and support set up by regular Israelis to fill the void left by the officials, politicians and authorities. It has been amazing to behold how Israelis have come together. In the black hole of devastation left by October 7th, the Israeli spirit has been heartwarming. I have always said Israel is most united in a war.
When cameras were allowed in to the communities five days after the event, the sight to behold was of gruesome and wanton destruction. Buildings burnt out, furniture destroyed, children’s toys strewn everywhere and all this was under a heavy cloud of heroism and death. Yet standing on one table, as if emphasizing the absurd contrast between everyday life and the revolting reality, was a half full glass of red wine. It survived the destruction as though the Hamas savages gave it a wide birth so as not to offend their Muslim sensibilities. It stood there like a beacon of western civilization surrounded by medieval depravity.
This got me thinking. How can I as a wine writer respond to the despair and horrors of the hour? Writing about wine seems a very futile activity when considering the seriousness of war. The wine guy has no solutions. Wine is a luxury and writing about wine is my own fetish, but I never fool myself into thinking wine is that important. It is a niche and to an extent I live in a wine bubble where I taste, talk, read and write about wine. So at this time, it is not really relevant. However, I simply want to put it out there that a glass of wine at the right time can raise spirits. One of my mantras is “have a glass of wine and everything will seem better.”
The Jewish people are notably abstemious. We are not big drinkers, and never were, but wine accompanied us from the beginning. Noah was the first vigneron. Grapes became one of the seven blessed species. Interestingly, each of them is suitable for a country short of water. Jacob gave a blessing to his son Judah which implied a flourishing wine future. The Israelites learnt that wine was exalted during their sojourn in Egypt. Egyptian wine culture was developed. When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, the symbol that welcomed them was that large bunch of grapes. (“It is a land of milk and honey, and this is the fruit.”) The iconic large bunch of grapes carried by the two spies on a pole lives on. The image is today the logo of both the Israel Ministry of Tourism and Carmel, our largest winery. The natural terroir, where grapes grew with ease, and the skills of the Canaanites, who were the finest winemakers in the world of their time, was bequeathed to the Israelites who then fulfilled Jacob’s blessing. Wine flourished and became an integral part of the culture and the economy. The importance of wine in the Holy Land was one of the reasons it became a core part of religious ritual in the Judeo Christian world, as Kiddush, Altar and Communion wine would attest. There is no lifecycle event in the Jewish world unaccompanied by wine.
However in modern times Jews were known for being notably abstemious. Though in Eastern Europe (in particular in Russia, Ukraine & Poland) of the 19th century, Jews were bar owners and distillers, but they were not drinkers. In the Maghreb of North Africa, Jews did make wine for ritual purposes along with their domestic, cottage industry of Boukha and Mahia production, but this also did not make them big drinkers. In America of the 20th century, after Prohibition, Jews were heavily involved in the wine and spirits business. Seagram, Southern Wine & Spirits, and Constellation Brands, all Jewish owned, at different times became respectively the world’s largest spirits producer, the world’s largest distributor of alcoholic beverages and the world’s largest wine company. A disproportionate number of the Jewish community are involved in the drinks trade there. Today it is a fact that the Jewish spirit of choice, particularly in America, has come to be Scotch Whisky. The Kiddush Clubs that sprang up everywhere certainly increased Synagogue attendance! I call it safe treif.
After the first Aliyah, Jews became farmers again. They initially planted everything, but like the Israelites before them, they found that vines and olive trees grew better than anything else in our stony soils. It therefore followed that vineyards were planted and Baron Edmond de Rothschild founded a modern wine industry. However though the Ancient Israelites drank copious amounts of wine (partly because water carried diseases), Israelis for many years looked warily at alcohol. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin used to like a whisky when he returned from work and then he would enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. (For the record, one of his favorites was Yarden Merlot.) He got into these perfectly normal habits after serving as Ambassador to the United States. He used to say wrily “water is for horses!” You are not a philistine if you enjoy a drink in the western world, but Israelis just did not understand that culture. He was falsely accused of being an alcoholic by the poison machine of the time. (Yes, there was a poison machine even then, though not as effective, dishonest or damaging as today’s.) Since then there has been a wine revolution here, which has propelled Israel to become a quality wine producing country again. But despite all the noise (and we make a lot of digital wine noise for such a small wine country), and all the wine education, the modern day Israelis still drink a pitiful quantity of wine. Including Kiddush wine, and of course excluding grape juice, our annual consumption is a paltry six liters of wine per head! However despite this our wines are very good, and there is no other product that represents the “People and Place” (meaning Israelis and the Land of Israel), quite like wine.
So this is my contribution to the situation. You know the slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On?” I would like to add to that: “..and have a glass of wine.” This gives you time, a moment of respite and contributes to a reduction of anxiety. Insurmountable problems can seem bearable with a glass of wine in hand. Which wine? It doesn’t matter. Drink what you like, whether is Moscato, Lambrusco, Blue Nun, a chilled white or a complex, expensive red. Price and quality though is not the issue here. For me, rose is a perfect pick-me-up, early evening aperitif wine. It is not too formal and the ideal mood wine. Others might choose a lightly oaked Chardonnay. It does not matter. Image, peer pressure or grandstanding to wine lover friends is not the issue here. Freshness and drinkability is the order of the day.
How are you able to rely on the kick alcohol gives you without becoming too dependent on it? The answer is to have rules. For instance if I am drinking wine, I usually do not do it alone and I usually have it with food. The holy trinity of wine, companionship and food can’t be beaten. It is like a three legged stool. If one leg is missing, the whole experience is not the same. It is also a safeguard to ensure wine is enjoyed in the best possible way. It is important to know that after a couple of glasses, everything seems better. However, if you are moved to drink a whole bottle of wine, the result will be counter-productive. In a word, copying President Biden’s wonderful, historic speech in support of Israel: Don’t!
For those who drink spirits, I suggest you have similar disciplines. Drink with a mixer. For instance, enjoy your pick-me-up whisky with soda, lemonade, ginger ale or ice and water. Obviously the whisky mavin will drink a single malt, maybe with a touch of water. However this is the connoisseur. Take your gin with tonic; vodka with orange juice, rum with coke or arak with grapefruit juice. Whatever your poison, go for it, but drinking neat when emotional or under stress does not give a lift. It is just a quicker way to get drunk, and that acts as a depressant; and does not solve any problems. My personal spirits of choice are a neat whisky or Campari with soda. I am compelled to start any meal in restaurants with a Campari. At home with time to savor a high quality whisky, I like to enjoy a Macallan or Balvenie, especially anything with a sherry finish. However if I want an early evening boost, I am quite happy to have a Johnnie Walker Black Label with ice and water.
Cocktails are fun and to an extent they are part of a new retro-trend. Some of the old favorites are easy to make like Manhattan, Negroni, Martini and Margarita. I am not a great cocktail drinker, because I am usually on the wine boat, but if well-made, I find it hard resist a good spicy Bloody Mary, with tabasco and black pepper added. Long cocktails are refreshing and therefore easy to consume too quickly. You just have to realize that the ease of drinking and the mixing of some spirits are not necessarily compatible. Make allowances. Sip instead of drink. Make it last. There is something to the rule of not mixing the grain and the grape. Decide what side of the fence you are on and stick to it. Here I add two more rules. Never drink on an empty stomach and always drink water alongside your alcoholic drink. Quench your thirst with the water and not the alcoholic beverage. By the way, drink plenty of water before you go to bed. This is the way to avoid the dreaded hangover.
Beer can be enjoyed, but it is always best to drink with friends. It is important to note that binge drinking is not the answer. Personally, I usually prefer a Real Ale, Bitter or Pale Ale, showing my English roots and sometimes I simply pine for a Guinness. However if I just fancy a drink, a refreshing cold lager like Stella Artois will do the trick.
Don’t get bent out of shape worrying about having the correct drinking glasses. Choosing the right glass may enhance the enjoyment, but couldn’t matter less. Most people have one style of wine glass only, and many do not own wine glasses at all. Don’t let this stop you. It is strangely releasing to drink wine out of a tumbler. Who cares? Also don’t forget you can make a wine last. You are able to enjoy a glass, recork the bottle and put it back in the fridge. If the cork does not go in, simply turn it around and try again. It will go in more easily. The wine will be ok for a good few days and you can return for a glass when you feel like it. Just remember it will begin to deteriorate in time. So by all means enjoy your daily glass, but don’t forget it is there.
The answer is to use alcohol and enjoy it, but stay in control and drink it in moderation. It is better than anti-depressants. Wine beats Prozac any day, but don’t let the demon drink take ownership of you. However, at times when the mind is stretched, a glass of wine is the perfect antidote. Keep Calm and Carry On. A glass of wine here and there won’t bite you.
Adam Montefiore is a winery insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wines for 35 years. He is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wine and is the Wine Writer of the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com