Archive for March, 2010



Passover Food and Wine Pairings

The psalmist who stated “Wine … maketh glad the heart of man” spoke of the enduring tradition of wine as man’s companion. Highly anticipated holidays herald the cycle of seasons, make ordinary days special and slow down the swift passage of time. Passover, presages Spring’s rejuvenation and recalls the Jewish Exodus from Egypt millennia ago. Jews, both orthodox and less traditional, gather family and friends around a seder table laden with food and wine. At Passover, when four cups of wine are poured as libations during the reading of the Seder service, Jews make deccide which wines add a sense of joyfulness to family dinners. Passover menus run the gamut from traditional briskets, either savory or sweet and sour, to chicken, lamb, and duck. Some recipes call for fruit —mandarin oranges or apples—or a touch of balsamic vinegar. The sweeter dishes pair well with sweeter wines, like a white Yarden Muscat or Galil Mountain Gewurtzraminer. Ashkenazi Jews cast traditional votes for the familiar meal of gefilte fish, chicken soup and matzo balls, and brisket. Sephardic Jews have a different orientation to menu choices. Tthe sense of anticipating a meal enjoyed in the past is hard to overcome. On the other hand, a menu isn’t written in stone, and many families enjoy novel and more adventuresome fare. Therefore, usual pairings of white wine with fish and red wine with meat go out the window, since it is too complicated to change wines in the course of the evening. Red wine tends to be more popular than white during the seder, but one practical hostess persists in serving white since red wine stains on a pristine damask tablecloth signals potential disaster.
In some ways, these personal choices follow the dictum of “Drink whatever you like with food, so long as it’s wine.”
For decades, Americans had limited choices of wine. Intensely sweet Concord grape or extra heavy Malaga. Manischewitz was the standard bearer in most homes for the four glasses of wine lifted during evening’s reading of the Hagaddah. Sweet wine loyalists adhere to this wine, made from the native American Concord grape and dosed with copious amounts of sugar to make the wine palatable. One suggestion is to say kiddush, the prayer over wine, with Manischewitz, and then switch to drier wines that are more suitable with food. Check out the increasing number of new kosher wines, both mevushal and non-mevushal.
New kosher labels from well-respected growing regions produced under strict rabbinic supervision favorably compete with their non-kosher counterparts. The revolution in kosher wines has raised the bar and many compete favorably with their non-kosher wines counterparts. In fact, many consumers of all persuasions enjoy them because of their high quality. This change was brought about by world-wide cooperation between vintners, new technology patterned after California and French counterparts, greater respect for vineyard management, and new clonal selections.
Winemakers like Napa Valley’s Ernie Weir of Hagafen (Hebrew for the vine) Winery produces several excellent varietals of kosher wines. Israeli wineries like Galil Mountain, Golan Heights, Yarden, Carmel, Margalit, and Amphora are increasingly dedicated to quality and long-range planning. However, even non-kosher producers, like Laurent-Perrier, the notable Champagne producer, are joining the kosher bandwagon. Baron Herzog Wine Cellars seems to be producing everywhere from Europe to California. The good news? More quality and choice in a range of prices from moderate to expensive. However, the wide spectrum of wines is confusing to consumers who want to liberate their thinking about kosher wines while still following the strict letter of religious laws. It’s exciting to expand from same old-same old, and complement the seder dinner with interesting wines made from currently popular grape varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscato, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A Barbera from Galil Mountain Winery will knock your socks off with its deliciousness. Baron Edmond de Rothschild Bordeaux is pricey, but good, and Dalton’s exceptional Port fits the bill for those with a sweet wine tooth. Remember discounts are often offered when wines are purchased by the case.