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Passover Wines

Printed in the 2010 edition of “Essential Ra'anana”


With over 250 Israeli wineries, a Passover seder provides a unique opportunity to try a few Israeli wines you’ve yet to taste. It’s an enticing way to enhance the holiday meal for your family and guests. A progression of wines throughout the meal can simulate a wine tasting and complement the dishes that will make a seder a more memorable event.

 

When selecting and serving wine, there’s a few general traditions that will serve you well. First, start with white wines and then progress to red. Also, serve lighter body wines followed by heavier wines and lastly offer sweeter wines after dry wines. The reasoning for these guidelines is red wines are heavier in the mouth than whites and make it more difficult to appreciate. Similarly, a heavy white served first, such as Viognier may make a following Sauvignon Blanc seem underwhelming just as a big and burly Cabernet Sauvignon served before a Pinot Noir might make a nuanced Pinot Noir seem timid and meek. Sweet aperitifs or dessert wines before dry wines will often make dry wines seem bitter.

 

So here’s several suggestions for trying four Israeli wines for your four glasses at this year’s Passover seder. Starting off with a Champagne-style sparkling wine will impart an air of celebration to the meal. There are a few effervescent kosher for Pesach Israeli wines that would kick off the evening with a pronounced pop. The Golan Height’s Gamla Brut label produces the most traditional offering of a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay derived wine made in the Champagne methode. The Carmel Winery produces two sparkling wines for the budget conscious host and the Tishbi Winery has a new Tishbi Brut that uses French Columbard grapes, the base grape for their award winning brandy.  The crisp acidity of a sparkling wine might go well with a salad, chicken liver pate, egg salad or an opening fish dish or even chicken soup.

 

Another white for the second glass, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, would keep the meal lively. Sauvignon Blanc also has abundant acidity which is important when matching with a salad with dressing as vinegar can make many wines taste flat if it’s more acidic than the wine. Sauvignon Blanc would also match gefilte fish or a white fish salad. Consider Recanati’s Sauvignon Blanc Reserve or Dalton’s Fume Blanc.  Carmel, Barkan, Binyamina and Tishbi also have an array of Sauvignon Blancs to fit your budget. Sauvignon Blanc is also a good match with asparagus and artichokes which typically don’t match well with other wines.

 

Pinot Noir could substitute for the second glass on the table. A Pinot Noir is a lighter red that’s a good transition from white to red and often pleases both white and red wine fans. Pinot Noir is often paired with salmon dishes and can also be light enough to pair with poultry, veal or beef with light sauces and seasoning. Yarden, Tishbi and Gush Etzion all produce popular Pinot Noirs.  If you want to try all reds for your seder, a series of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon then Syrah or Shiraz would give you plenty of Israeli wines to choose from.

 

For the third glass, if you haven’t offered a red by now most diners will be craving a glass. Depending on whether you choose to serve a dessert wine for your fourth glass should help determine if you serve a medium body red such as Merlot or go big guns for a block-buster red like a Syrah/Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Most Israeli wineries offer both a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon so there are plenty to choose from.  If these are newer vintages, 2006 or later, decanting at the beginning of the meal should let these wines display their potential by the time the third or fourth glass if offered. A Cabernet Franc from Recanati, Tishbi or Carmel might be an interesting and unique twist for the third glass as these grapes are being recognized as doing well in Israel for offering wines that have similar flavors as Cabernet Sauvignon but are a little lighter, a bit more acidic and herbaceous which makes it a better food match than bigger, bolder and often more alcoholic Cab Sav’s.

 

Dessert wines for the fourth glass is a nice way to wrap up the meal. A dessert wine should ideally be sweeter than the dessert it accompanies or the wine will taste a bit flat. Also, I suggest that red dessert wines match well with red or black fruit based desserts that feature cherries, raspberries or desserts that have chocolate or nuts with tannins such as walnuts and pecans.  Tishbi offers a Red Muscat dessert wine as well as a brandy fortified Barbera/Zinfandel dessert wine.  White dessert wines will often be best suited to pair with white fruit desserts such as apple, peach, or apricot or lighter nuts like almonds and cashews. The Yarden Winery has a few highly celebrated white dessert wines (Heightswine, Muscat and Noble Semillon) that fill this bill. 

 

Expect to get about 5 full glasses per bottle for most wines. Dessert wines are often poured in half measures as their more suited to sipping than quaffing.  At Passover, as with many Jewish festivals, the wines are a focal part of the meal and a little attention to detail can make a good meal great and a great meal extraordinary and one talked about until you outdo yourself the following year.