Passover is here again. I have for a long time associated Passover with wine. For me it is the Festival of Wine, not the Festival of Unleavened Bread or Festival of Freedom. To taste four glasses, potentially four wines, and be a good Jew at the same time is very tempting. It is like having the best of two worlds.
For the wine trade the festival is a blessing. A religion which says you have to purchase wine as a mitzvah, is good for the wineries. Many will not admit it, but they look forward to Pesach, from one Pesach to the next! For the consumer it is an opportunity to buy wines at what are likely to be the cheapest prices all year. Attractive promotions abound as shops and supermarkets try to steal a march on the rivals. For the wine lover it provides opportunities to play.
In my family, each Pesach is a special wine tasting which is either themed, a vertical tasting or a particular variety. Alternatively it is an opportunity to open those bottles that lurk at the back of the wine fridge awaiting a special occasion.
There is something of the Roman banquet in a Seder Night. In a classic banquet one starts with a sparkling wine as an aperitif, move on to whites with the first course, reds with the main course and finally a sweet dessert wine with the pudding. For the Seder I recommend starting with a sparkling wine, if you want to ape a real banquet, but more popular may be a Moscato, light, low alcohol, sweet and slightly sparkling, for those are nervous about drinking on an empty stomach. For the second glass I would choose a white wine and this I would go on to serve with the starters of the meal. This could be dry or semi dry depending on your guest’s preference. I prefer to be inclusive with big parties, and so will choose wines so as many people as possible will enjoy them. If you end up with Moscatos and Gewurztraminers and the aunt who hates wine likes it and has a smile on her face, then it is mission accomplished as far as I am concerned.
The red wine I would serve with the main course and go on to use it for the third glass. I would end with a sweet dessert wine for the fourth glass. Traditionalists will insist on kiddush wine, I just suggest you serve it cold if this is your minhag. It makes it so much more palatable. Some choose grape juice, with children in mind. Others mix grape juice and Kiddush wine. If you get to this creative idea I suggest Moscato or one of the similar red wines (Carmel & Teperberg Wineries have one) if your tradition insists on red.
If you have only a small family group as I do, with no less than three people in the wine trade, you can have a ball. One can afford to drink some good wines. I get out my Grandfather’s cut glass decanters, open something memorable and provide a unique wine experience. One option, if I was to indulge myself, would be to select the best Israeli wines of today. If I did this today, my personal choice would be a selection from:
Yarden Blanc de Blancs , Tzora Shoresh Blanc, Clos de Gat Chardonnay, Flam Noble, Castel Grand Vin, Margalit Enigma and Yarden HeightsWine.
The Blanc de Blancs, Shoresh, Clos de Gat and HeightsWine are arguably the finest sparkling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and dessert wines in Israel. As far as the reds are concerned, it is far more complicated. The Grand Vin, Enigma and Noble are all Bordeaux style blends based on Cabernet Sauvignon. Each is outstanding but there are certainly others worth considering too.
However, if I was on one of those temporary assembled long tables with plastic table clothes, disposable plates and all the cousins, uncles and aunts present, the focus of the wine aspect would change. Obviously, it does not make sense to waste good wine. It would simply be too expensive too. For this group, I would go budget.
For me it is a no brainer. There are some very good wines in the ‘three for hundred shekel’ category, where the QPR (quality price ratio) is at its best. In this instance, I would recommend the following:
Golan Heights ‘Hermon’ Moscato, Dalton ‘Kna’an White’, Tabor ‘Har’ Chardonnay, Hayotzer ‘Virtuoso’ Gewurztraminer, Binyamina ‘Ha’moshava’ Merlot and Carmel ‘Private Collection’ Shiraz.
The Hermon Moscato is light, grapey and frothy and would be suitable for either the first or the last glass. The Kna’an is crisp, fragrant and refreshing. The Har Chardonnay is good quality and well-balanced and the Hayotzer Gewurztraminer is aromatic with delicate sweetness. They are arguably the best I have tasted of these grape varieties at their price points. The Ha’moshava Merlot is bright, fruity, easy drinking and refreshing. The Private Collection Shiraz has pronounced ripe fruit and is flavorful. All the wines mentioned represent great value.
However I have concentrated my choice of wines for Passover this year mainly in the middle range. This is my top 10 for this year.
Bravdo Sauvignon Blanc 2017. Aromatic with good varietal character. This is a first Sauvignon Blanc produced by Karmei Yosef Winery and it was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it. Refreshing. PRICE: NIS 80
Teperberg Essence Pinot Gris 2016. Bone dry, minerally, white wine with great acidity. Teperberg Winery must be one of the most improved wineries in the country. Very refreshing. PRICE: NIS 75
Tulip White Franc 2017. Innovative rose made from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Refreshing with a delicate sweetness. Tulip Winery which contributes to a community of adults with special needs, always delivers. PRICE: 82
Recanati French Blend 2017. Aromatic, semi dry white made from French Colombard with a little Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat is ideal for those preferring a little sweetness. Great idea by Recanati Winery, and it is highly drinkable. PRICE: NIS 85
Segal Free Run Merlot 2016. Bright, fruity, flavorful. Cherry berry fruit. This is one of the first expressions of the new winemaker for Barkan – Segal, which is now the largest winery in the country. PRICE: NIS 59
Jerusalem Marselan 2016. Easy drinking with bags of ripe, chewy fruit. The bottle has a bright, colorful label of one of Gerstein’s paintings. Jerusalem Winery is fast improving and a good place to shop for bargains. PRICE: NIS 59
Maia Mare Red 2016. Mediterranean blend made from Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Fruity, meaty yet with a refreshing finish. Maia is a young winery focusing on Israel’s Mediterranean identity. NIS 85
Castel La Vie Rouge 2016. A great value wine from the House of Castel. Classy but approachable. It is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Castel have built a wonderful new winery, beautiful and highly equipped. La Vie brings Castel wines to a whole new clientele looking for the classic pedigree but at slightly less expensive prices. PRICE: NIS 85
Claude Seror Rouge 2014. Complex, elegant with good aging potential made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grape varieties. Domaine Seror is a quality newish winery from the Golan Heights, a volcanic plateau. The wines show fine quality and are well-balanced. PRICE: NIS 129
Alexander Gaston Reserve 2014. Ripe, rich, concentrated & full bodied. It is also made from Cabernet, Merlot & Syrah but in a more powerful style. Alexander Winery is known for blockbusters, but the wines are well made. If you like big wines, you will enjoy this. PRICE: NIS 150
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years. He is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine’ and is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com