When we think of the Rosh Hashana meal, perhaps one of the first symbolic foods we indulge in is the apple dipped in honey. It symbolizes our anticipation and hope for a sweet new year, a year that will be highlighted by simchas, successes, and cheerful news in all aspects of our lives.
Indulging in all sorts of sweet dishes on Rosh Hashana is a very nice minhag to partake in. Sweet wines can also be enjoyed with many classic Rosh Hashana dishes and desserts. Unfortunately, sweet kosher wines have the reputation of being inferior, simple table quaffers that lack any complexity and appeal for the fine wine drinkers.
This is a misconception which must be addressed and corrected.
Some of the world’s most delicious and sought-after wines are sweet dessert wines. These wines are often mentioned in classic literature and come from exceptional French terroirs such as Sauternes, Barsac, Alsace, and Bonnezeaux. Others come from Portugal’s Douro valley like the Port wines, or from Hungary such as the renowned wines from Tokaji. These legendary elixirs have been an inspiration for the winemakers of new world countries. Nowadays, there are many kosher options to choose from that are produced in California, Israel, and South America.
An excellent example of a Californian succulent sweet wine is none other than the Herzog Late Harvest White Riesling. While it is made with grapes growing in Monterey County, California, it is produced according to the traditional methods of Alsace. This wine is an oldie but goodie. Providing luscious notes of ripe pears, caramelized apples, and maple-glazed walnuts, this wine showcases a refined sweetness making it the ideal wine to start off the meal. It pairs beautifully with with fresh fruit such as figs or with salads containing fruits and candied nuts.
The next wine in this category is produce by the venerable Israeli winery in Zichron Yaakov, Carmel. The Shahal Vineyard is made with late-harvested Gewürztraminer grapes, but gets its inspiration from Alsace as well. It is rich and flavorful with aromas and flavors of dried apricots, pineapple, honeysuckle, and lychee. It has enough acidity to prevent the sweetness from being cloying. This wine would perfectly compliment and pair well with a lemon-meringue pie.
The Alfasi Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is a really special wine that hails from the Valle del Maule, in Chile. Just like the great wines of Sauternes, it contains a small percentage of Sémillon and is made from grapes that were impacted by a fungus, the Botrytis Cinerea. This fungus drains the water out of the fruit while allowing it to retain natural high acidity and it keeps the residual sugar in check. Such wines are very rare to come by and yet this a tremendous value and well worth seeking out.
Last but not least, the Zion Fortissimo is a Port-style wine crafted by the most ancient Israeli winery, founded by the Shor family in 1848 in the old city of Jerusalem. It is made from Marselan grapes, a modern-day variety that is a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir. It was aged in oak barrels that were stored outside, under the warm sun of Israel for 9 months. This full-bodied wine is simply delicious, with flavors of blackberry jam, sugar-coated pecan nuts, butterscotch, and bakers chocolate. It is divine with chocolate brownies or even on its own, after a festive and copious meal.
L’chaim, Shana Tova!