Chanukah foods and the proper wine pairing options in the kosher wine world
First of all let me start by wishing everyone a happy and healthy Chanukah. I always love how the Jewish tradition finds our past fused with our present and future. The Jewish faith is based on the thesis that we do not live on a linear timeline, but rather a spiral one. The time of year has meaning, it has a place, the same place and importance that happened last year, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago or 100 years from now. It makes the other Jewish concept, that there is no time or concept of space for God almost logical to us. Of course we believe that the Lord is Omnipotent, and perfect to us, but that is impossible for us to relate to, even for your crazy boss who thinks he is God. But when you talk about time and space, and how that relates to us, well it starts to make sense. If we live on a spiral timeline, then we can have a bit of what God must perceive, we can feel how with the coming and going of certain times of the year, that we ebb and flow with it. I hope no one has had a Passover and not felt the kinship of family and friends a little bit sharper or more brighter than in other times of the year. I pray that no one has had a Yom Kippur where they never felt somewhat closer to our creator.
With the coming of Chanukah – the time and place where Judea fought for the soul of the Jewish people, it is natural that we feel a bit more Jewish pride and sense of self. I hope we feel a tug on our souls asking the ultimate question – why are we here and what are we meant to be doing on this planet? Well, for me that is a quest that I have yet to finish.
Still, while I cannot believe that my time on Earth during this phase of humanity is solely to enjoy food and wine with people, I am sure it has a part of it, only because I love it so, and God would not have given us abilities if they were not part of the ultimate plan for each of us. So, with that in mind, I hope we can agree that the food and wine that you do share with your family and friends should help us all feel a closer bond with our Jewish past and hopefully find a way to fuse it with our future.
To me, for now, food and wine is what I want to share with all of you – my virtual friends and family, around the social internet table called the Blogosphere. If there was a way to channel the past – while fusing it with the future it would have to be around a table of latkes and jelly filled doughnuts. If you had to choose the food of Chanukah, those would be it for me. That perfect crispy potato/leek/parsnip/root vegetable Latke – whichever of those that fit your personal and diet profile – is about commemorating the lighting of the Menorah with the single flask of pure olive oil. It is that oil that miraculously powered the Temple’s 7 branched menorah for 8 days and nights – which is why we get presents for 8 days! No really, it was because we felt and saw, first hand, the presence of God – our reason for being on Earth – in our midst at that time. It was his clear message to us to be proud and true to who we are that we commemorate his aura and miracle with food! Really? Yup, us Jews get it! We understand and are ready to inculcate the past – or maybe the present – within ourselves, but we also want to enjoy that commemoration. We wish to find a way to incorporate it both spiritually and physically, so that it becomes more than just a spectacle, but rather a way of life. I hope we all get more out of this holiday than a few more pounds on our frame’s. I hope we get the chance to see what is here now, what our forefathers saw now, what their parents and the parents before them and after them saw each and every Chanukah – the joy of our Heritage, our religion, our spiritual connection with God, and yes the joy of how we share all of that around food and wine with our friends and family!
So, with that well understood, and a basis for why we are to talk about the golden delights of Chanukah, let us start dispelling some horrific Culinary myths and ethos that are epically WRONG! To start, there is nothing wrong with making a Latke with whatever vegetable you want! Remember, there were not even potatoes in the time of the Temple, so the potato latke, no matter how wonderful they may be, are NOT a part of some old and storied tradition! However, BAKING a Latke is missing the whole point! Why must we all conform to the Neo-diet and paleontological pulls of our Fat Albert concerned culture. At that rate, why not just eat raw potatoes and be done with it! This is the festival of lights – light powered by oil! True, this is not called the festival of oil, but it might as well have been! Without the oil we have no rallying cry! We are the people of the book, and Chanukah is the festival of oil! Get over it!!! Now, I am not saying u need to drink oil! All I am saying is – instead of wolfing down 50 latkes over the course of Chanukah, eat a few good, well made, properly constructed, golden delights – and embrace the past, while throwing in a bit of current time control! Moderation my friends is the key word here! It is better to have lived a life with few but true culinary treats than to have gorged daily on a thousand rice cakes and have missed the purpose of life!
The next myth that must be destroyed is the simple fact that; sufganiyah is not just another doughnut! Please do not commemorate the holiday of oil by eating an Entenmann or a Dunkin Doughnut! Seriously! The whole sufganiyah idea, another of our more recent day culinary commemorative “heritages” – was made to enjoy and taste oil! That is really hard to do when people are topping the darn things with chocolate or banana or God knows what else! Control, basics, minimalist; those are the ethos of Chanukah cooking! According to Gil Marks, the sufganiyah has been around since at least 1485! Stick to what we have been doing for centuries or more. We are not demanding classicism here! Mix it up by changing things around it – not by changing the essence of the concept itself!
Finally, please whomever started the applesauce idea – kill it now!!! Seriously – applesauce??? That is as bad as another recent self-inflicted and culinary killing fad; sour cream, but at least there we are staying in the savory wheelhouse!
So, with the culinary topics covered, let us start on the wine pairing disasters that I have been reading about! Pinot Noir? Really? Why? Have Pinot become the new goto wine for anything savory? Turkey – Pinot, Latke – Pinot, Seared Lamb – Pinot! Ok, lamb and Pinot are a match made in heaven, but the others are just overkill.
Latke demands a wine with backbone, with acid, with punch, capable of cutting through the atrocities of sour cream and applesauce – like I think I can convince you otherwise – I am not that naive or big headed. In the end, it is about wine that has the fruit body without the overpowering flavors that take away from the dish itself. So what do I recommend? Simple – Bubbly! Now wait – is that not just for New Years? WRONG! Bubbly is for any occasion where you feel happy, joyous, and in control, which calls for sparkling wine! The low alcohol level, will let you sip a glass or two and yet still be vertical. It has the acid backbone of a rod steel, and it has mousse to cut through almost anything you throw at it.
So why is this wonderful drink so misunderstood? Simple – tradition! People think bubbly is for special occasions – like a New Years bash. But with the prices and quality of kosher bubbly going in opposite directions, you can enjoy the spirited wine more than once a year.
The other option is White Riesling – as long as it is dry or at most 2% sweet. If you go much sweeter, you lose the rich acid bite, and then the battle is lost when you throw crazy abominations like apple and cream at it.
Finally, for the Sufganiyah, you can either happily continue on with your bubbly – or you can go with some sweet whites, like Yarden Heights Gewurztraminer Dessert wine, or Yarden Noble Semillon, or the 2012 Binyamina Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, reserve. They are both GREAT examples of control and finesse in the world of white sweet wines. The acid cores on both of the wines cut through the sweet jelly filling, while the sweet or funky notes work beautifully with the gooey dough.
So, here is my virtual toast to all of my friends and family. May this Chanukah be the beginning of new culinary treats – ones that channel our faiths vast and storied history, both in the past, present, and future! May it be a time of reawakening of your pride to be a Jew, our pride of our traditions, our faith and our connection to the all mighty. May it be a time where we find our true meaning, all the while enjoying it with friends and family around a table filled with culinary treats that embolden us to see our future while firmly planted in our past!
The bubbly, Riesling, and sweet wines I recommend follow below:
2012 Hagafen Riesling, Devoto Vineyards (2% RS) – Score: A-
This wine continues to impress me and it is one that I never get tired of. It is a step beyond simple quaffer, with great balance of 2% residual sugar and great acidity, controlled with lovely tropical fruits. The nose starts off with sweet notes or tropical fruit, clear honeysuckle commands the nose, with pineapple, and candied grapefruit taking the side stage. The mouth is rich and layered and truly captivating with an almost oily texture from the sugar, along with banana, peach, more tropical fruits, along with tart white cherry. The finish is long and sweet with a great balance of tart to sweet fruit, sour red apple, and guava. Bravo!
2012 Hagafen Dry White Riesling, Rancho Wieruszowski (QPR) – Score: A-
Until now, Hagafen has been making 2%, 4%, and 6% residual sugar White Riesling wines for 30 years!! This is the first dry (with a hint of sweetness) Riesling and what a refreshing joy it is! The nose explodes with litchi, pink grapefruit, sweet white fruit, guava, and peach. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is rich, ripe, round, and layered, making you think sweetness – but that would be incorrect, along with more citrus, along with bracing acidity, kiwi, and melon. The finish is long and mouth drying with sweet notes, nice lime and meyer lemon curd.
2012 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi Vineyard – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely wine is filled with honey notes, floral notes, ripe honeysuckle, spice, grapefruit, and guava. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered with ripe fruit, bracing acid, and a nice round mouth with sweet fruit, balance, along with great quince pie, and vanilla. The finish is long and petrol based with more sweet, tart, and acidic concoction, along with bakers spices, slate, and more crazy tart notes – BRAVO!
2008 Yarden Rose, Brut – Score: A- (and more)
To call this brut wine a rose, is such a misnomer that it is not even close. This should have been called a Rose Brut, like the 2007 Blancs de Blancs is called a Blanc! Still, what can you do the labels are printed and such is life. The wine is made of 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Chardonnay, and then was bottle aged for 5 years on its lees. It is a classic bubbly wine that I have now had the chance to spend a Shabbos with and taste three times. I asked a few winemakers about it, and each replied with their own leanings, some find it a perfect match to Champagne and some find it too light for them, liking more the Blancs de Blancs brute force and style. To me both wines are a wonderful gift to the kosher wine world and a must for anyone drinking sparkling wine. As of now the wine is not going to be imported to the US – so buy it when you are in Israel.
The nose on this beautiful pink salmon colored wine is rich and redolent, but shy as well, with classic yeast notes, followed by pink grapefruit, strawberry, and peach. The mouth on this medium to medium plus bodied wine starts off with a lovely attack of fine bubble mousse, freshly baked and then toasted brioche, along with green apple pie, freshly roasted almonds, pear, and cherry notes. The finish is long, luscious, and captivating with bracing acidity, candied currant, fig, and white chocolate. BRAVO!!!
2007 Hagafen Cuvee de Noirs – USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely burnt peach colored wine was lively with effervescent small bubbles, along with pear, orange, brioche, light toast, yeast, mango, apricot, peach, strawberry, and chocolate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine attacks first with a lovely mousse of small bubbles, followed by strawberry, peach, apple, orange, and pear. The mid palate is lovely and balanced with lively acidity, brioche, yeast, oak, and mango. The finish is super long, concentrated, and spicy with strawberry, lovely mousse, brioche, more chocolate, yeast, mango, peach, light oak, orange, and tea. This is a lovely sparkling wine that really needs time in the fridge and one that is a lovely now and will continue to be lovely for at least a few more years to come.
NV Drappier Champagne Carte Blanche Brut – Score: A–
The nose light gold colored wine is explosive with rich toast, fluffy white chocolate, herb, grapefruit, bright green apple, malting yeast, and minerality. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is super rich with an energizer bunny small bubble mousse, more toast and brioche, nice yeast, rich herb, super bright and tart green apple that mellows down to a creamy apple sauce, and grapefruit. The mid palate has super bright acid, herb, grapefruit, white chocolate, and mineral. The finish is long and rich with more small bubble mousse, white chocolate, tart green apples, herb, more yeast, and mineral. This is a lovely and balanced wine that does like more time in the glass. Even better leave a few glasses of wine in the bottle, cap it with a normal cork and try it the next day – quite lovely!
NV Drappier Carte d’Or – Score: A-
This is the second of two Drappier wines that Royal is releasing. We tasted the other one – Carte Blance and liked that one very much. The wine is a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The nose on the light gold and salmon colored wine is starts off with yeast, nice mineral, bright lemon, apple, and toast. The mouth on the medium bodied wine starts off with white peach, cherry, brioche, and a lovely mousse of small bubbles. The finish is long and tart with toast lingering.
Laurent Perrier Champagne – Score: A- (and a bit more)
I have had this wine a few times and this time the wine showed so very well, that I almost anted to buy a few, but in the end, bought a bunch of Drappier and Yarden Blanc de Blanc, both of which have been far more dependable and far less money.
The nose starts off with lovely toast, followed by green apple, peach, and classic yeast. The mouth is rich and with a medium body, but backed with waves of small bubbled mousse, all wrapped in dense mineral notes, good tart fruit, peach, solid balanced acid from tart lemon, and grapefruit. The finish is long and yeasty with more mineral, slate, and rich herb that lingers long.
2007 Yarden Blanc de Blancs – Score: A- to A
The Yarden Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in the northern Golan Heights, Israel’s coolest viticultural area. The wine is made strictly according to the traditional method (méthode champenoise) including hand harvesting, pressing of whole clusters to increase acidity and fruit flavors, and secondary fermentation in the bottle. Disgorging took place after five years of bottle aging on the tirage yeast.
Are u kidding me! A filthy wine with a nose of intense fruit, lemon curd, peach and apple cobbler, brioche, and nice toast that gives way to ripe green and yellow apple, and crazy insane ripe lemon curd. The medium mouth is wow in a single word. The mouth is insanely ripe and intense and ripe with ripe baked anjou pear, freakish assault vehicle of acidity and small mousse bubbles, with lovely yeast and brace for it – mouth coating tannin!! The finish is long and tart with insane grapefruit, bitter and rich grapefruit pith, and lemon zest. Bravo!!!
2005 Yarden Blanc de Blancs, Brut – Score: A-
We enjoyed the 2007 and 2005 at a tasting recently, the 2007 shows insane potential, and while 6 months ago the 2007 was awesome, right now it is more closed than ready. That said, the 2005 vintage was tasting lovely, not as sharp and focused as the 2007 was and will be again, but a very nice sparkler all the same.
The nose shows rich notes of toast, floral notes, and tropical fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely with small mousse bubbles, followed by bright acid, lovely yeast notes, rich fruit, lovely baked apple, along with white toasted brioche, and bracing acid that makes for a lovely dry, generous and elegant sparkling wine.
2007 Hagafen Brut Cuvée, Late Disgorged – Score: A-
The 2007 Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine is a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay. The beautiful light salmon color really comes out in the glass, which is expressive with nice white chocolate, rich toast, apricot, peach, nice mineral, candied raspberry, and grapefruit. The full bodied mouth hits you with an attack of lovely small mouse bubbles that do not let up, along with brioche, strawberry, yeast, apple, citrus, and summer fruit. The finish is long and tantalizing, with good complexity, nice structure, great spice, rich toast, great slate, mineral, bracing acidity, light citrus pith, and herb that helps to keep the whole experience rich and bubbly!
2007 Hagafen Brut Cuvée – Score: A-
The 2007 Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine is a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay. The beautiful light salmon color really comes out in the glass, which is expressive with nice white chocolate, bright citrus, fig, cherry, and melon. The mouth hits you with an attack of lovely small mouse bubbles, along with brioche, apple, citrus, quince, and yeast. The finish is long and tantalizing, with good complexity, nice structure, and bracing acidity to keep the whole experience rich and bubbly!
2012 Hagafen Brut Cuvee – Score: B+ to A-
This is Hagafen’s newest Brut and while it is lovely, it lacked the complexity of previous vintages. This nose is lovely with yeast, spice, nice peach, green apple, brioche and spice. The mouth on this lovely medium body shows great acid, with nice brioche, along with a nice small bubble mousse, pear and citrus with apple pie and spice. The finish is long with tart fruit, lemon friache and fig.
NV Deccolio Prosecco – Score: B++ (QPR)
As I stare into the glass of bubbles I cannot help but conjure up the classic war between love and hate, the perennial battle that takes us to the brink and then lets us barely catch our breath before once again going into the breach! I speak of course about the conflict of wine brothers, acid and bubbles versus fruit and toast. In this lovely wine there is no conflict, there is just harmonious brotherly love, a focus of purity and tart fruit that forces you to raises the glass and proclaim – BRAVO!
The nose on this wine is filled with green apple, lithe notes, lovely white flowers, honeysuckle, and summer fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts with lovely honey, followed by layers of light mousse, green apple, litchi, and spice. The finish is long and rich with wonderful acid, great penetrating fruit and mineral that lingers long with slate and pith – BRAVO!!!
N.V. Elvi Wines Cava, Brut, Adar – Score: B++ to A-
The notes on this wine are consistent with my last tasting. Please make sure to be getting the new bottling, which is the mevushal bottling – which is newer. The nose on this bubbly and effervescent light pink colored wine, is hopping with strawberry, lemon, light char and smokey notes, and cherry. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is packed with small bubbles that are active and alive; that are clean and well made that mingle well with green apple, Asian pear, brioche and bracing acidity. The finish is long and tart with core acidity, strawberry, bubbles, and a lemon burst at the very tail end. BRAVO!
2004 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Noble Sémillon Botrytis – Score: A-
Deep gold in color, the nose on this wine screams with botrytis funk – an aroma that is highly enjoyable (hence the name noble rot), along with rich honeyed tones, pineapple, and baked maple covered peach. The mouth is rich and layered and oily in ways that are truly impressive, but with all the sweetness that almost puts you into a honeyed guava induced coma, the bracing acid pulls you out and makes you take even more notice. The finish is filled with creme brulee, hints of butterscotch, orange peel, and dried apricot on the long and spicy finish – BRAVO! The wine’s heft and viscosity balanced perfectly with good acidity allows for this wine to cut through most any dessert – we enjoyed it with a blueberry crisp and non-dairy ice cream and it handled it with aplomb.
2012 Binyamina Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, Reserve – Score: A- (plus a bit more)
The grapes for this wine were picked at the end of the harvest season when very ripe, and all components – sugar, aromas and acidity – were high due to grape shriveling. The nose on this lovely light gold colored wine explodes with ripe fruit, sweet notes, and undeniable funk, along with pineapple goodness, melon, and guava. The mouth on this full bodied wine is clearly effected by the residual sugar in the wine, but is also lifted by the viscosity that protrudes from this lovely wine, showing layers of concentrated sweet notes, honeyed core madness, followed by funk goodness, and ripe grapefruit. The finish is long and sweet/tart with a balance that is impressive, followed by spice, great acid, and intense fruit. BRAVO!
2008 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc, Late Harvest – Score: A- (and a bit more)
The nose on this wine is filled with rich funk, lovely Botrytis (noble rot), along with oily richness, all wrapped up in a lovely bees nest filled with sweet dripping honey and tropical fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, and concentrated with oak tannin and sweet fruit mingling together to make for a great experience, more honey, guava, bracing acid that helps cut through rich desserts, along with pineapple, mango, and rich sweet candied peach. The finish is long, sweet, and funky, with more candied fruit and sweetness that adds to the wines weight and joy. BRAVO!!!