First Fruits: Wines to Pair With Your Shavuot Cheese

Let these bright, strong white and rose wines enhance your cheese dishes to celebrate the Jewish midsummer harvest festival.

Dan Peretz

Wine and cheese, a classic if ever there were one, is a particularly apt way to celebrate Shavuot: Wine is an agricultural product par excellence, and Shavuot likely originated as a midsummer harvest festival.

Tradition holds that the first fruits (bikkurim) of the seven species were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on Shavuot. These fruits include grapes, one of the oldest products of the Land of Israel.

Spring is a great time to try some new bottles, and Shavuot is the perfect opportunity to update our pairings with cheese. Instead of an old-fashioned tray of cheese and port, I propose (mostly) unoaked, bright, strong rosés and whites that can be drunk on their own, but hold and even shine when enjoyed with assertive plates of food.

I suggest the following wines - all but one Israeli - with robust, cheesy dishes such as these: Pasta with Parmesan and butter sauce, truffle risotto, ricotta tart, or gorgonzola canapés, perhaps with chutney.

For those nearby, the City of Herzliya is holding its seventh annual Shavuot festival of white and rosé wines on May 20 and 21 at the city's marina. Hundreds of white, rosé and sparkling wines representing Israel's premiere wineries and leading importers (plus a complimentary crystal goblet) will be yours for a nominal entrance fee of 69 shekels. 

1. Tulip White Franc, 2014. This breezy blend of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc is the easiest-drinking wine on this list, and the only semi-dry. Fruity and balanced as it is, it will shine alongside anything from an aperitif to cheese blintzes. Kosher. About 79 shekels in Israel, $22 abroad.

2. Recanati Gris de Marselan, 2014. A spectacular, very elegant wine. Deep rose in color with beautiful body, a bracing mineral character and the flavors and aromas of dark spices, crisp plums and roses. Kosher. About 100 shekels in Israel, $34 abroad.

3. Yarden Rosé, 2009. A wonderful méthode champenoise - naturally sparkling - wine, classic but playful, made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir grapes. A balance of citrus and red fruit layered with jasmine and crusty bread. Kosher. About 130 shekels in Israel, $39 abroad.

4. Pelter Rosé, 2014. An excellent wine. Two years ago, Tal Pelter produced a 100% Tempranillo rosé that was as mystifying as it was addictive. This year's version is a blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Cabernet Franc grapes, yielding a refreshing wine with a watermelon, mandarin orange and smoky character. Not Kosher. An excellent deal at 85 shekels in Israel. Due to the small quantity produced it is not available abroad, but it is well worth the trip to Israel.

5. Rosé du Castel, 2014. A beautiful wine, pale and powdery pink. This rosé is made from a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc grapes, and it is characterized by the flavors of guava, grapefruit and roses, with a stunning, long-lasting finish. Kosher. About 100 shekels in Israel, $36 abroad.

6. Flam Rosé, 2013.  A fresh, lovely blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc  that produces a deeply fruity, pale salmon-pink wine balanced by a brisk herbaceousness and  hints of peach. Kosher. About 87 shekels in Israel and $34 abroad.

7. Yatir Rosé, 2014. Yatir is one Israel's premier boutique wineries, renowned for the individuality and refinement of its product. The rosé is of equal measure: a delicate yet potent blend of Grenache and Tempranillo grapes, it stands out for evocative peach, floral and tropical characteristics, tempered by a dry tobacco essence. Kosher. At 90 shekels in Israel and $25 abroad, a steal.

8. Bazelet HaGolan Chardonnay Reserve, 2013. For many years, Yoav Levy's small boutique winery was a well-kept secret among obsessive lovers of the best Israeli Cabernet Sauvignons. Then, he branched out into making Chardonnay, and he has made a glorious, gold wine, revealing layers of butter, pear, ripe apple, spices, grapefruit and a hint of chalk. It rests in oak barrels for eight months. Kosher. About 120 shekels in Israel, $35 abroad.

9. Roche Mazet, Syrah, 2013. This light ruby wine is fruity and tart with a wonderful sweet berry aroma. It costs 49 shekels in Israel and $4.50 abroad, making it one of the better values.