“May I ask you a question?” inquired a stranger as I visited a wine store last week, after he realized there was a dedicated wine enthusiast standing in front of him. “Which wine would you recommend me to buy for Passover?”
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I went silent for a few moments, running a list of wines through my mind that I would have been happy to see on my holiday table, before realizing I was not going to recommend any of them to him.
“I can’t really answer your question,” I replied, starting an evasive monologue. “I don’t know you, or your family; I have no idea how many people will be there around the table. I don’t know if those people drink wine regularly or only on the holidays. And all that comes before we even talk about your budget. So you want me to just throw out a few names?”
The stranger then provided me with the necessary information and, after a few minutes, received a list that will help him contentedly make it through the seder night. However, our meeting touched on the root of the problem of making wine recommendations for the holiday and seder meal.
Are you looking for a good wine to put on the table? There are a lot of these wines, but some are irrelevant to the seder night, since the secret of success lies in appropriateness – to your budget; the character of your event; and the guests and hosts.
Before you learn how to make such a decision properly and select the right wines, you make a lot of mistakes along the way – especially if you are a wine enthusiast who’s a little out of touch with the real world. Believe me, nothing can prepare you for the moment when the host who invited you to a Shabbat meal chooses to use the wine you brought with you, and paid for with your hard-earned money – some 250 shekels ($63), say – to make kiddush. And then, after you’ve made your peace with the evil decree, he then fills the cup to the brim, spilling the wine all over the table, and your face turns as gray as the gefilte fish crying out for a slice of carrot. A true story.
As the one who has been charged with providing the family wines for many a Passover seder, I’ve adopted a few guiding principles to help me build a menu of recommendations that could save you such misfortune. Since in most cases we are talking about a meal with a large number of participants, and every one of them must raise at least four cups of wine to their lips, there is a need for an adequate amount of wine. As a result, I decided to choose bottles with only two-digit price tags (from 35 shekels to 79 shekels).
Not too sophisticated
In light of the crowding that characterizes the seder table, I aspired also that the list include only wines that are pleasant, quaffable and do not require any special treatment: Tasty, but nothing too sophisticated. The third and final criteria guiding me was finding wines that don’t jade the palate and are appropriate both for wine enthusiasts as well as the grandmother who only drinks one sip before taking her high-blood-pressure pills.
It turns out I was tackling a difficult assignment, since finding Israeli wines that meet all these criteria – particularly those concerning price – is not such a simple task. Nonetheless, here is my list of recommendations for this coming Passover.
1. Galil Mountain, Blanc de Noir, 2014
Galil Mountain Winery’s Blanc de Noir, a white wine from red grapes (Pinot Noir and Grenache), only started appeared in stores in recent days. It may well become the hit of the spring and summer, even in its premier edition. It has all the necessary characteristics: A clear, golden straw color for the look; an aromatic nose that combines the aromas of white summer fruits with the fragrance of citrus fruits; a crispy trace of tartness and fresh fruit flavors – a combination that guarantees a most harmonious, enjoyable drink. A real success. 69 shekels.
2. Recanati, Yasmin White, 2014
An old and reliable workhorse still providing one of the best returns for price in the Israeli white-wine division. It is a nice mix of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, starts with an amazingly aromatic fragrance with clear notes of green apples, and is drawn to the mouth with an excellent and piercing tartness, which refreshes the palate from the taste of the first courses. Not complex or sophisticated, but tasty and fun. 39 shekels.
3. Lueria, Gewurztraminer, 2013
Every holiday table must have an answer for those who say they don’t usually like wine. The Gewurztraminer of the Lueria Winery, from the far northern Galilee, is a semi-sweet white wine that can fill this role perfectly, mostly thanks to its abundance of aromas (citrus fruits and ripe tropical fruits), a gentle sweetness that mixes naturally with the overall fabric of the wine, and juicy fruit that dominates the palate. 79 shekels.
4. Dalton, Alma White, 2013
Compared to the first three whites I recommended, Alma White – a blend of Semillon, Viognier and Pinot Gris, which were fermented separately and later combined for mutual maturation in barrels – provides a completely different experience. Here, we receive much more body and volume alongside an excellent presence of fruits, a nice combination that does not overpower the wood and provides a seasoned conclusion. Complex, original and at a very sane price. 65 shekels.
5. Galil Mountain, Ela, 2012
A successful, user-friendly red blend – from Syrah, Barbera and Petit Verdot varieties – that can only be described as “extremely delicious.” It has a pleasant nose, rich in red fruits, while it has a smooth mouth characterized by peppery fruit and slides down the throat easily. The tartness is wonderful and refreshing, and the overall experience is of a balanced, inviting and sexy wine that will integrate wonderfully with meat courses. 70 shekels.
6. Vitkin, Red Israeli Journey, 2013
Year after year, Vitkin Winery’s Israeli Journey wines endeavor not to disappoint, and the 2013 vintage is no exception to the rule. Sixty percent Carignan grapes, 30 percent Syrah and 10 percent Cabernet Franc, this wine spent 10 months in oak barrels to produce a juicy blend, energetic and full of refreshing fruit. It is only 13 percent alcohol content, which proves that it is possible to create a balanced, delicate wine, but also one that is not too “pop.” Wonderful. 75 shekels.
7. Golan Heights, Gamla Nature Syrah, 2011
As opposed to the higher-level series from the Golan Heights Winery, the Gamla Nature line uses less wood. When we combine that with the high-quality fruit of the winery and add a relatively cold year such as 2011 to the equation, we receive a wonderful and calming Syrah, which provides a full and balanced drinking experience. The characteristic sweetness is exactly in the right amount, alongside a velvety texture and a lot of taste of black fruits – most pleasant to the palate. Excellent value for money. 65 shekels.
8. Tabor, Shiraz Adama, 2012
A powerful Shiraz, bursting out and sweetish, rich in black and purple fruit tastes, and equipped with a tartness that cleans the palate. A delicious and pleasurable wine, it can be assumed that it will not get lost between the mountains of food on the holiday table, and will not remain in the bottle. 59 shekels.