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Making Four Cups Count: Selecting Quality Passover Wine!

Wine has always figured prominently in Jewish religious rituals. Nary a festival passes that is not sanctified by the Kiddush (blessing over the wine) and the tasting of some vinous substance. The Kiddush is recited during the commencement to and conclusion of the Sabbath, before every holiday meal, and to demarcate important milestones such as weddings, circumcisions, Bar Mitzvahs, and even for yahrzeits (anniversary of a family member’s passing). Perhaps more so than any other Jewish holiday, the approaching holiday of Passover calls our attention to the centrality of wine in Jewish traditions.

During the course of our Passover Seders we will all (hopefully) consume the requisite four cups of wine, and possibly sneak a glass or two while enjoying the holiday meal. The tale of the Jewish people’s liberation from Egyptian bondage will be punctuated by lengthy pauses in which we will reflect on our narrow escape from a life of servitude. As wine was largely the province of the wealthy in the ancient world, what better way to celebrate our freedom and economic comfort than to recline on cushions and partake heavily of the “fruit of the vine”? Wine also serves another purpose during this elongated evening of recitation, song, and discussion. Much like in the Greek Symposia and Roman Convivia, wine is intended to act as a social lubricant. Wine ought to loosen our tongues enough to facilitate more animated and honest conversation between the Seder participants.

More than any other Jewish festival, Passover has the potential to be one of the greatest wine evenings of the year. It is an unfortunate truth, however, that most Jewish families will choose insipidly saccharine Manischewitz wine to act as the sole representative from the vast array of wines the world has to offer. This year, in an effort to alter this deplorable situation, I have taken it upon myself to at least broaden the horizons of my immediate family. Aware that this Passover will be the first which commingles my family with my in-laws, and that the Seder’s participants will span the spectrum from wine aficionado to the openly skeptical, I knew this would be no trifling task. Which wines can please such a large and outspoken family? Do I focus on high-end or low-end, French of Californian, red or white? How much should I spend? These questions, which are no doubt common to anyone having the chutzpah to volunteer as their family’s wine bearer, threatened to overwhelm my calculations and ruin a fortnight’s worth of sleep. Fortunately, one doesn’t need to seek out a burning bush to select fitting wines for a family gathering. Instead it takes but a little research and a few pointed questions to your local wine provider. Here are some of the considerations and discoveries that guided my thinking and may be useful in your own Seder planning.

Since I will be the most critical imbiber of the wines served, I opted not to splurge on the pricier selections that caught my eye, but instead to average about $15 a bottle and aim for crowd pleasers. I also felt that the best way to celebrate a holiday that centers upon the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt on their way to the Promised Land is to only raise glasses hailing from the state of Israel. With these thoughts in mind, I eventually settled on the Tishbi Cab-Petit Syrah 2002, the Galil Mountain Chardonnay 2004, and the Barkan Reserve Chardonnay 2000. The Tishbi is a medium-bodied and low tannin wine that will provide just enough lush fruit to satisfy the Seder participants used to full-bodied California and Australia wine, but not dense enough to scare away people accustomed to drinking only whites or light reds. I also chose two Chardonnays to adorn our Passover table. Since there is such a plethora of Chardonnay on the market, odds are you will be able to find a few decent bottles at good value. The two Chardonnays I selected represent two different styles of Chardonnay production. The Galil is a full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay with tropical fruit flavors on the palate and vanillin aromas on the nose. In contrast to this, Barkan’s Chardonnay is more subdued in flavor and body. This Chardonnay attempts to stay truer to the more traditional French style of Chablis production and highlight the soft peppery and citrus flavors of the Chardonnay grape.

For my last bottle of white, I chose the Dalton Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2003. This Sauvignon Blanc is commonly believed to be the best of its kind produced in Israel today. It boasts tangy fruit notes underscored by an herbal nose, and is a nice alternative for those who prefer crisp minerality in their whites. Lastly, I decided to purchase the Gamla Pinot Noir 2004. The higher altitudes of the Galilee allow for the production of grapes that are best expressed in a cooler climate. This Pinot Noir produces a highly aromatic wine with layers of berry, floral, and cinnamon flavors. The Gamla is sure to be a great accompaniment to the meal and to be a hit with both the white and red wine drinkers at the table.

I hope that these selections may inspire you or help you make the same hard choices I had to make. Have a Happy Passover!