As Pesach draws near and the wine frenzy is at its peak, anyone interested in more than just a glass of Kiddush wine may have a hard time making sense of the literally hundreds of labels available from dozens of countries. As the selection in the liquor store may be a bit overwhelming, most people pick out one or two favorites and drink them on a regular basis.
In this way they are assured of liking what they drink, but they don’t get a chance to expand their palate. Others will look to the storeowner, who on occasions bases his picks on his own economic interest and profitability. However, wine knowledge is best achieved by tasting and enjoying. So, take a chance on something new and different and you just might be surprised at what you like.
So which wines should you choose for your Pesach Seder this year?
Well, my family’s tradition has always been to drink wines from the holy land for Pesach. After all, that is part of the story of our redemption. While for many years that meant our selection was limited, about 10 years ago the Israeli wine industry gained significant ground, driven by a young, internationally-oriented generation.
From the northern elevations of the Galilee and the Golan Heights, to the coastal plains and down to the Negev desert in the south, Israel is making outstanding wines with a distinctive style and taste.
For your tasting pleasure, I have chosen 10 Israeli wines that are exceptional in every way and display a nice balance of fruit, oak, mineral elements and firm structures, as well as rich spicy notes. I’ve also included my tasting notes for these value wines. Here they are in alphabetical order:
Agur Kessem 2007: From the Judean Hills, Mata Vineyard, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Petite Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.
Various aromas of berries and plum, it’s a full-bodied, multi dimension wine that possess layers of berries, currant and pleasant floral notes. Would pair well with rich meat and duck.
Barkan Reserve Pinotage 2004: With plum and raspberry bouquet it is structured and medium-bodied with rounded tannins, balanced with subtle hints of chocolate and a pleasant tartness. Can be paired withmedium flavored grilled or sauced chicken or fish dishes.
Binyamina Yogev Cabernet/Shiraz 2007: 50% Cabernet, 50% Shiraz.
Gemmy fruit aroma that displays ripe forest berries against a soft backdrop of spicy oak and a trace of vanilla. Soft silky tannins and a long finish. Medium bodied wine that will only get better in the next five years. Can be paired with steaks and well seasoned meat.
Castel – Grand Vin:Aged for 24 months in French oak, unrefined and unfiltered. Graceful and elegant with dominant tannins, it is full-bodied, bold, concentrated, with layers of aromas and flavors that linger on. Look for berries, plums, and a hint of olive and spices on the palate. This wine will grow the next 5 years. Will go well with full flavored beef or chicken dishes.
Dalton – Matatia 2006:A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Developed in new French oak. Aromas of mint, leather and a hint of black current; nice balance between wood, acidity, tannins and fruits with blueberry, blackcurrant and tangy citrus notes, Long finish with soft lasting flavors. Can be paired with a variety of red meats and pasta.
Flegman – Merlot:Like a Merlot should be – robust berries and forest fruit with subtle hints of chocolate, cassis and earth. Rich oak and soft spice backed by notes of plum and cherry. Velvety tannins with a big finish. Pairs well with lighter meats such as veal and lamb or pasta.
Shiloh – Merlot/Shiraz 2005: From the Judean Hills region, 82% Merlot, 18% Shiraz. This is a medium-bodied Merlot that features bright, ripe cherry notes balanced by subtle toasted oak overtones and hints of vanilla and a soft, velvety mouth feel. The Shiraz adds dark berry flavors and hint of black pepper, Enjoy the Shiraz-Merlot with duck, moderately spiced chicken or rich pastas.
Tzuba – Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: Another winner from the Judean Hills region, thisfull-bodied, rich wine is very well balanced with delightful aromas of roasted oak, dark berries and smoky notes. Ripe cherry characteristics and soft silky-smooth tannins with a chocolaty herbal finish. Has the potential to overwhelm delicate dishes, is best used with rich beef and lamb.
Yatir Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: Blended with 15% Shiraz, big vibrant wine displaying dark flavors tar, bittersweet chocolate, licorice, black currant and dark roasted coffee beans. Full-bodied, with firm structure and soft tannins, smoky wood, plum and currant fruit flavors. This wine is designed for current drinking, but should last well for the next five years. Will pair well with full flavored beef, grilled chicken, duck or veal.
Yarden Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon 2004: From the Golan Heights region this wine is aged for 18 months primarily in small French oak barrels. Powerful mature blackberries, cherry, cassis and plum notes with toasty oak, vanilla and a nuance of spices. It is full-bodied and concentrated with a long complex finish. Will go well with full-flavored foods, such as peppered grilled steak, or roasted duck or lamb.
Like everything else in the Middle East, Israel’s wine culture is complicated, subject to the ongoing conflict of the troubled region. Many farmers and vintners have to endure and endanger their lives because of the raining Katyusha rockets in the northern vineyards or the mortar bombs and rocket shells in the South. For Israel’s budding wine culture this collateral damage really wreaked havoc on the local economy. But despite the hardship Israeli farmers continue to sustain and preserve the vineyards, as the vintners create a work of art.
So this Seder as you fill your glass up with wine, think of the Israeli farmers and their families.