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Five Terms Of Endearment – So Why Only Four Cups Of Wine?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The number four seems to play a major role in the Pesach Seder. We have four questions, four sons, four terms of endearment and, of course, one of the major features we soon will be enjoying – the drinking of four cups of wine.

The Mishnah is very specific about those four cups, requiring the community to see to it that even the poor have them, even if it comes from public charity (Pesachim 10:1).

Since the Torah says nothing about wine in describing the Pesach ritual, the question arises as to the origin and meaning of this practice. Why wine at all and why four cups?

To begin with, wine does appear in the Torah in ritual contexts. It was used as libations on the altar (Exodus 29:40) and was considered a special drink that caused people to rejoice.

As we read in Psalm 104:15, “And wine makes the heart of man joyful…” This is why it was taken from the Temple rite into the synagogue and the home, so that Kiddush is recited over it, as are Havdalah and the Birkat Hamazon. Weddings are also solemnized with wine and it is used in the ceremony of the brit milah.

It would only have been natural, then, for the festive Pesach meal, like any holiday feast, to begin with wine and conclude with it. Two cups.

However, at the Seder the third cup is associated with maggid – the telling of the story. The fourth cup is recited over Hallel and is a special addition unique to the Seder.

Different explanations were offered in the writings of the sages, the gaonim, and the later rabbis as to the significance of the number four. Among them are: four expressions of redemption, four empires that oppressed Israel, four cups of punishment of those empires, four cups mentioned in connection with Pharaoh, four cups of fury, four cups of salvation, four decrees of Pharaoh against Israel, four exiles.

The most popular and most generally accepted explanation was that the four cups stand for the four promises of redemption that God uttered: I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements, and I will take you to be My people (Exodus 6:6-7). The Hebrew words are vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vegoalti and velakahti.

Once these four promises had been accepted as the reason for the four cups, the question arose about the fact that there was a fifth expression of redemption in Exodus 6, verse 8 – “And I shall bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – veheiveiti.

And so Rabbi Tarfon taught, “On the fifth cup one finishes the Hallel and says the Great Hallel (Psalm 136).” This is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:1, and also in the manuscript reading of Pesachim 118a.

This is also probably the origin of the Cup of Elijah. Since not all were agreed that we should drink a fifth cup, it was set aside until Elijah would come and decide that issue and all other halachic issues. It may be that the majority of the sages demurred because that promise was painfully unfulfilled after the exile of the year 70 CE. That may also explain why in the verses elucidated in the Haggadah, the verse “He brought us to this place and gave us this land” (Deuteronomy 26:9) is absent.

Both Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam mention using the fifth cup, though they see it as optional but not required.

Rabbi Menachem Kasher, in his edition of the Haggadah, strongly advocates the drinking of the fifth cup. The Cup of Elijah can be passed to all the participants as the fifth cup.

Rabbi Kasher believes we have been privileged to live in a time when the fifth expression of redemption has actually come to pass, as the Jewish people have returned to their own land and established the state of Israel. Therefore, it is right and proper that we drink a fifth cup to recognize that reality and express our gratitude and thanksgiving to God for it.

Considering that so great a sage as Rabbi Tarfon advocated the fifth cup and that such great authorities as the Rambam and Rav Amram Gaon permitted it, it would seem that not to drink the fifth cup would be an act of ingratitude to God for the partial redemption represented by the state of Israel.

How many cups does it take to express our gratitude to God at the Seder? I believe the answer is five.

By Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Fearing Holiness as Pesach Approaches

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The big 7-8 day Holiday is approaching. The one that seems to get people more uptight than happy (as they should be –Rambam, Laws of the Holidays, 6:17), to the extent that when you are actually brave enough to utter the word “PESACH,” it often feels like you’ve put people on edge.

These less than “30 days before the Holiday” offer us an opportunity to evaluate the above phenomenon, which seems to be more and more commonplace in our times.

It amazes me that Pesach comes just a month after Purim. More than anything, what makes Purim unique is that it is a day in which the edict that “one should become inebriated on Purim till one doesn’t distinguish between the curse of Haman to the blessing of Mordechai” proclaims it a day in which…everything goes, in which one has very loose – to non-existent – borders regarding what is permitted and what is forbidden. In a word, it’s a day in which the word “fear” seems to be put into a drawer for 24 hours, as we permit ourselves to do things otherwise unthinkable – in terms of what we wear, what we say, which jokes we crack, and of course, how much alcohol we allow ourselves to consume.

And then, right after the hangover passes, the costumes are put away for next year, and the last cookie from the “Mishloach Manot” is eaten, we get…fearful and nervous; just 30 days to clean the house, buy the (new and expensive) groceries, and cook for Pesach!

From too much courage to neurotic fear, and all this in two months!

Leaving aside how much one needs to clean for Pesach and how crazy one must get (based on the Torah’s dictates, without the “extra’s” of cleaning the windows as well…), I’d like to comment on just one point – the “fear” of it.

I believe that something has crept into the Religious Jewish community over the last few years that shouldn’t be there – our fear of holiness. Let’s introduce it with the following episode, usually read right after Purim in the weekly Torah reading (except in a leap-year). The Jewish people have just been forgiven for the elevated sin of the Golden Calf, and Moshe is coming down Mount Sinai…with one small change to his face:

29. And it came to pass when Moses descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand when he descended from the mountain and Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while He had spoken with him 30. that Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses and behold! the skin of his face had become radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.31. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the princes of the community returned to him, and Moses would speak to them…..

Reading these verses, I would have thought it wonderful – the people behold Moshe looking holier than ever, and thus maintain their distance, knowing that they are not on the level. After all, we don’t just barge into a shul, open the ark and greet the Torah Scrolls with a “Hello Mate…,” nor do we ascend the Temple Mount without proper preparations! And so, the Jewish people recognize Moshe’s new, elevated radiance/holiness and keep their distance from his holiness.

But then we get to Rashi’s read, which offers a radically different interpretation:

and they were afraid to come near him: Come and see how great the power of sin is! Because when they had not yet stretched out their hands to sin [with the golden calf], what does He say? “And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel” (Exod. 24:17), and they were neither frightened nor quaking. But since they had made the calf, even from Moses’ rays of splendor they recoiled and quaked. (from Sifrei Nasso 11, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, p. 45)

What forces Rashi to see the above in negative terms rather then the positive? Why not just applause the people for their reverence of holiness?

Seems to me that Rashi wants to give us a message: We dare not stay away from holiness. Quite the contrary – we should embrace it and try to get a “piece of it.”

Our Torah is full of commands to “be holy” (Vayikra 11:43-44, 19:2, 20:7), or “to be for me holy” (20:26)! Moreover, when the Torah commands that we shall go to “the place” in order to sacrifice and more, it adds the edict that “you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there” (Devarim 12:5). The Ramban explains (ad-loc) that “the reason for ‘you shall inquire after his dwelling’ is that you shall come from afar, and ask: ‘where is the house of God,’ and say to each other: ‘Let us ascend and go to the mountain of God to the house of the God of Jacob.’” In other words, according to this interpretation, we should not only be holy but should actually pursue it, seek it out, and make “an issue” of asking people how we can arrive at holiness.

Drinking on Purim: Holy or Wholly Irresponsible?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Jewish Tradition has always stressed moderation, restraint, and personal responsibility. This is true even when we celebrate. In Hilchot Yom Tov (6:20), Rambam warns:

“When one eats, drinks and rejoices on a festival, he should not drink too much wine or engage in levity or lightheadedness and say, ‘all who add to this are increasing the mitzvah of simchah.’ For drunkenness, excessive laughter, and lightheadedness is not simchah, but rather debauchery and foolishness…” Yet the Gemara (Megillah 7b) records: “Rava said, ‘One is obligated to get drunk on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.’” Drinking on Purim is accepted by the Rif and Rosh and codified by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 695).

It’s hard to imagine how drunkenness, which Judaism abhors the entire year, is considered an “obligation” on Purim. The author of Kol Bo struggles with this very question and writes:

“One is obligated to drink on Purim – not to the point of drunkenness. Drunkenness is completely prohibited and there is no greater offense than it, for it leads to adultery, murder, and the like. Rather, one should drink more than he is accustomed to in order to increase his joy and make happy the poor and console them, speak to their hearts – for that is true joy.”

‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’

Concerning drinking on Purim, Rambam writes that one should drink until he falls asleep (Hilchot Megillah 2:15). Once asleep, one cannot differentiate between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’ Tosafot writes that one should drink until he cannot recite the phrase, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, “Cursed is Haman, blessed is Mordechai, cursed is Zeresh, blessed is Esther, cursed are all the wicked, blessed are all the Jews.” Some explain that the requirement is to drink until one can no longer answer the proper refrain to a poem that was once customarily recited on Purim (Abudraham, Purim and Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 695:1, citing Sefer HaMinhagim of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Tirna). Others rule that the Gemara only requires one to drink to the point that he can no longer calculate the gemmatria of ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai, which share an equal numerical value (Rabbeinu Yerucham, Toldot Adam V’Chavah, Netiv 10, Chelek 1; Abudraham, Purim; Maharil, Minhagim, Hilchot Purim 10, citing Mahari Segel; Sefer HaAgudah 1:7; Bach, Orach Chayim 695; Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 695:3).

A moderate approach is taken by Rema (Orach Chayim 695:2), who synthesizes the positions of the Kol Bo, Rambam, and Maharil, and writes:

“There are those who say that one need not drink too much, rather drink more than he is accustomed and sleep. Through sleep one does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’ One might increase, another might minimize – as long as the intent of their heart is [for the sake] of Heaven.”

Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira

Strikingly, immediately after Rava’s instructions to drink, the Gemara (Megillah 7b) offers the following anecdote:

“Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira made the Purim feast together. They got drunk. Rabbah arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, he prayed for mercy and revived him. The following year he [Rabbah] said, ‘let’s make the Purim meal together again.’ He [Rabbi Zeira] answered, ‘not every moment does a miracle occur.’”

Some suggest that the Gemara cites this anecdote in order to illustrate the point that the halacha is not in accordance with Rava, and one should not get drunk. The story, in a sense, serves as a warning. One of the Tosafists, Rabbeinu Ephraim, as cited by the Ba’al HaMaor, concludes:

“Rabbah said, ‘One should drink on Purim, etc.’ Rabbeinu Ephraim wrote that from the account of ‘Rabbah arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira,’ this comes to nullify the statement of Rabbah. The halacha is not like him and it is not good to do so [i.e. get drunk] (HaMaor Hakatan in the pages of the Rif, Megillah 3b).”

How ironic, that in his girsa of the Gemara, it is Rabbah who both teaches the obligation to get drunk and who slaughtered Rabbi Zeira! This certainly serves to amplify Rabbeinu Ephraim’s position.

Yet other poskim deduce the opposite from the Gemara’s use of this anecdote. They see the story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira as a proof positive of the obligation to become intoxicated (Sefer HaEshkol, Auerbach Edition, Hilchot Chanukah V’Purim; Pri Chadash, Orach Chayim 695:2).

Why Drink?

According to Rashi, the obligation is to get drunk on wine. Abudraham and Chayei Adam explain that drinking wine reminds us that the miracle of Purim was carried out through wine. Feasting and drunkenness is a major theme in Megillat Esther and it allowed the easily pliable Ahashverosh to be manipulated. Drinking allows us to express our joy and gratitude to Hashem for His salvation (Magen David, Orach Chayim 695:1).

Israeli Rabbinate Warns against Tu B’Shvat Figs

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

The Kashrut Dept. of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate published a warning on the eve of Tu B’Shvat, cautioning against eating some of the holiday’s traditional fruits. Figs are at the top of the list, because of concern regarding insects and worms which “hide inside the fruit’s flesh and are difficult to detect.”

Carobs are also listed as “highly infected” because of the way they are grown and stored. The Chief Rabbinate recommends washing the fruit well, checking it for holes, and even banging it against the tabletop, to make sure its insides don’t crumble easily – both being telltale signs of the presence of worms.

The holiday of Tu B’Shvat starts tonight, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marking the New Year for Trees. It is celebrated by consuming the fruits which are indigenous to Eretz Israel according to the Torah.

A kabalistic custom calls for holding a Tu B’Shvat seder, in which participants eat ten local fruits and drink four cups of wine, the latter custom reminiscent of the Passover seder.

 

 

The Four Cups Of Wine

Friday, January 20th, 2012

In this week’s parshah (Shemos 6:6) the pasuk reveals the four leshonos of geulah: v’hotzeisi, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, and v’lakachti. Rashi, in his commentary to Pesachim 99b, tells us that the four cups of wine that we are commanded to drink on Pesach at the Seder correspond to the four leshonos of geulah mentioned above.

Many Achronim point out a seeming contradiction between the aforementioned Rashi and Rashi’s commentary on a later Gemara in that perek. In Pesachim 108a the Gemara says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that women are obligated in the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine because of the rule “Af hein ha’yu b’osah ha’nes – they too were involved in the miracle.” On this Gemara, Rashi explains that the four cups of wine represent the three times that the word “kos” (cup) appears in the pasukim that discuss the Sar Hamashkim’s dream, and one more for bentching – totaling four cups of wine. Rashi has mentioned two different things that the mitzvah of the four cups represents.

The Yifei Einayim, the Nemukei Hagrib, and the Cheshek Shlomo explain that the Yerushalmi (Pesachim, perek arvai, Pesachim halacha 1) and the medrash in Bereishis (Vayeishev 68) quote a machlokes as to what the mitzvah of the four cups of wine corresponds to. Rabbi Yochanan says it corresponds to the four leshonos of geulah, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says it corresponds to the word kos mentioned in the pasukim regarding the dreams of the Sar Hamashkim. (They additionally point out that in the medrash the names are switched, and that it is a mistake.)

Rashi believed both opinions to be true. Since the later Gemara that obligated women in this mitzvah was quoting the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rashi wrote according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s view of what the mitzvah corresponds to – namely, the word kos in the pasuk.

The sefer, Sdei Chemed (volume 7, chametz u’matzah 15:6) quotes a letter written to him by Rabbi Chaim Berlin in which he attempts to answer this question. He quotes a medrash that explains that the four leshonos of geulah correspond to four decrees that Pharaoh decreed upon the Bnei Yisrael.

The first is “Va’yemariru es chayeihem- and they made their lives bitter.” The second: “im bein hu vahamisen oso – if it is a boy you should kill him.” The third: “kol ha’bein ha’yilod ha’yeorah tashlichuhu – every boy that is born must be thrown into the river.” And the fourth: the decree regarding the straw that they had to work. Each one of the four leshonos of geulah was said against one of these decrees. And the Rabbanan instituted the mitzvah of the four cups of wine to correspond the four leshonos of geulah.

All four decrees were applicable to males; however, only two of them applied to females. One could ask why women are obligated in the mitzvah of four cups of wine if they only were affected by two of the decrees that the leshonos of geulah were said for. It is for this reason that when explaining the Gemara that discusses the obligation of women in this mitzvah Rashi switched to a different source for the four cups of wine. The first Gemara was referring to the general obligation in the mitzvah; therefore, Rashi quoted the reason that it corresponds to the four leshonos of geulah. Additionally Rashi could not use the source that he quoted later for the first Gemara because the first Gemara says that we give a poor man wine for this mitzvah from the tomchei (charity). The source that Rashi quoted in the second Gemara said that the fourth cup is for bentching, and we do not give wine from the tomchei for bentching. Therefore Rashi explained in that Gemara that the mitzvah corresponds to the four leshonos of geulah.

In the later Gemara that discusses a woman’s obligation in the mitzvah, Rashi could not use the source of the four leshonos of geulah since it would not apply to women. Thus he wrote another source that does apply to women as well, namely the word kos in the pasukim describing the Sar Hamashkim’s dream.

Rabbi Chaim Berlin wanted to establish a new halacha based on his p’shat. If a woman were to ask for the four cups of wine from charity, we would be obligated to only give her three cups. This is because if we assume that the mitzvah corresponds to the four leshonos of geulah, she should only have two cups since only two decrees affected women. And if we assume that the mitzvah corresponds to the three times that it says the word kos in the pasuk and the fourth is for bentching, we would only give three cups from charity – since charity cannot provide for bentching.

Sheva Berachot After Shalosh Seudot

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Question: Normally one may not eat or drink after Birchat Hamazon of Shalosh Seudot until after Havdalah. What is the halacha, however, if one schedules Sheva Berachot for a Shalosh Seudot meal? Should the groom and bride drink from the wine of Sheva Berachot or not?

Answer: The general custom is that the bride and groom do in fact drink from the wine. I believe this custom is based on the ruling of Rav Avraham Butchacha.

His rationale is as follows: The last berachah of Sheva Berachot blesses God for making wine. One cannot eliminate this berachah because the very name “Sheva Berachot” requires one to make seven blessings. On the other hand, one cannot refrain from drinking the wine because to do so would mean that the last blessing was recited in vain – a berachah l’vatalah (see Eishel Avraham, Mahdura Tenina, Orach Chayyim 22:7).

Rav Butchacha therefore permits the groom and bride to drink from the wine. He also argues that drinking wine after Sheva Berachot is qualitatively different than drinking wine after a regular Shalosh Seudot meal. After a regular Shalosh Seudot meal, one does not normally drink wine. One, however, always drinks wine after a Sheva Berachot meal.

The Minchat Shabbat, my paternal grandfather, writes (in his additive notes, Shirurei HaMinchah 94:4) that Rav Butchacha expounded in his commentary on Even HaEzer (62) a theory supporting drinking wine after Sheva Berachot. He notes that many scholars contend that a person who has the custom of always drinking wine after Birchat Hamazon is permitted to drink the kos shel berachah after Shalosh Seudot as well since the wine is then deemed part of the seudah (see Magen Avraham, O.C. 299:7). Since a bride and groom conclude each meal during the first week of marriage with Sheva Berachot that include a blessing for wine, they are classified as people who normally drink wine after Birchat Hamazon and hence are permitted to drink the wine.

It is reputed that HaGoan HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, only permitted the bride and groom to drink from the wine. My assumption is that this ruling is based on the logic of the Rav Butchacha. Only the bride and groom have the custom of drinking wine after the meal, not necessarily the person who led Birchat Hamazon.

It should be noted that the custom of HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, was to drink some of the wine after Sheva Berachot and then give the wine to the bride and groom (Minhagei MaHaRitz 58).

Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of seven books on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat the Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and at Amazon.com.

Guiding the Kosher Wine Consumer

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Looking for a great gift for the wine maven in your life? Look no further. Daniel Rogov has what you are looking for with his latest two hardbound, pocket-sized guides: Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines 2010: The World’s 500 Best kosher Wines (The Toby Press; November 1, 2009; 145 pages; $19.95), and Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2010 (The Toby Press; October 1, 2009; 485 pages; $19.95).

Rogov is the weekly wine and restaurant critic for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Even though he is not an observant Jew and is not remotely mindful of kashrus in his daily life, Rogov’s name has become increasingly well known in kosher wine circles. The reason is simple: in the course of evaluating thousands of wines from around the world, he tastes and reviews more kosher wines than any other published critic. Despite that a great many Israeli wineries actually produce non-kosher wines, a massive amount of very fine kosher wine is produced in Israel – all of which is tasted and reviewed by Daniel Rogov.

This is not an insignificant point, for the value of these two guides rests on the strength of Rogov’s professional critical judgment of wine in general, and of kosher wines in particular. That’s why his name is in the title. It is one critic’s view, and is perhaps a little idiosyncratic.

The value of the 2010 Israeli wine guide, the 6th annual, is fairly straightforward. Rogov reviews nearly 2,000 wines from about 150 wineries, all of which are ranked and described. Rogov also includes useful discussions of the history of wine production in Israel, Israel’s diverse wine- growing regions (a detailed map is included), and a brief discussion of the current Israeli wine scene. Also included in this handsome volume is a glossary of wine terminology, and contact information for all the wineries in the book. It is compact, comprehensive, and very easy to read and use as a reference for future purchasing and for helping one decide what to drink and when.

The tasting notes in both books are intelligent, concisely written and helpfully communicative – as these things go. That is, each review gives one a very clear picture of Rogov’s perception of the wine’s sensory characteristics (fruits, flowers, spices, etc.) and relative charms (balance, elegance, personality, etc.). The wines are further evaluated on the familiar 100-point scale favored by Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.  Rogov provides a key: 96-100 points is a “Truly great wine”; 90-95 is “Exceptional in Every Way”; and 85-89 is “Very Good to Excellent and Highly Recommended”; and so on down the line to objectively undrinkable (0-50).

If Israeli wines are of any substantive interest, Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2010 is an essential pocket guide. If kosher wines are your primary interest, however, the Israeli guide alone is great, but not perfect. After all, so many wines are not kosher. Those who self-select to drink only kosher wine have no need for intimate knowledge of non-kosher Israeli wine.

Why, you might ask, are so many Israeli wines not kosher? They are, after all, made by Jews using kosher ingredients (grapes) in the Holy Land itself; so what could be wrong, right? Wrong, unfortunately. Among the key components to producing kosher wine is that those handling the process, from crushing the grapes until sealing the bottled final product, are Sabbath observant. Obviously, this also means that no winemaking can be done on the Sabbath. Many non-observant Israeli winemakers are not interested in such restrictions, or in the potential compliance headaches of conforming to the rabbinic supervision entailed in obtaining official kosher certification.

In Praise Of Merlot Wine

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

   Like Cinderella, wines based on the Merlot grape have too often been forced by their older and better- established sisters to sit in a corner, just a bit ashamed to make a public appearance. In Bordeaux, where the grape originated, and is, in fact, the most often planted grape in the region, Merlot grapes have a reputation for producing soft wines of limited character. The grapes have never been ignored however. Because wines made from Merlot are said to reduce the sharpness of other wines, they are often blended in relatively small quantities into some of the great Cabernet Sauvignon wines. For many years very few European winemakers gave much thought to bottling a pure Merlot. Even in California, Italy and Chile, where a good deal of Merlot wine is produced, many wineries have a problem selling it because potential buyers have been fairly well convinced that a Merlot simply cannot be as good as a Cabernet Sauvignon. The image of Merlot was tarnished even further in the 2004 film “Sideways,” in which one of the protagonists devoted a great deal of time to derogating it.

 

   All of which is not entirely fair, for the Merlot grape is the basis of the wine of Chateau Petrus, unquestionably one of the greatest Bordeaux red wines. Known as the “king of Pomerol,” Chateau Petrus has produced more consistently great wines year after year than any other chateau in Bordeaux. Rich, supple and elegant at all times and reaching extraordinary heights of finesse in good vintage years, these wines are highly prized and accordingly priced. Simply stated, the fact that Chateau Petrus is based on 95 percent of Merlot grapes demonstrates that in addition to the grape, climate and soil play dominant roles in the creation of great wines. At this writing, the Merlot grape is alive and doing quite well in Israel, the wines giving good competition to many other red grapes.

 

   The first local winery to come out with a wine based primarily on Merlot grapes was The Golan Heights Winery in 1986. Based on 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the 1986 wine was little short of superb and the winery has continued to release fine wines made from Merlot, some of those from single vineyards. Many other wineries have now followed this trend.

 

   Unlike the wines of Chateau Petrus that should never be drunk before they are 10 years old, the best Israeli Merlots are drinkable as early as three years after the harvest. Fermented for about two weeks with their skins, the wines are then aged for 10-16 months in 225 liter oak barrels – some from France, others from the United States. After that, the wines are aged in the bottle for 10-12 months before they are released to the market.

 

   Following are reviews of some of the very best current releases of Israeli kosher Merlot:

 

   Bustan, Bustan, Merlot, 2006: A luxuriant and rich wine, dark garnet toward royal purple in color, reflecting its 22 months in oak with notes of vanilla and cinnamon and soft, supple tannins that caress rather than “grab.” On the nose and palate a generous array of plums, black cherries, currants, mocha and toasty oak, all lingering comfortably on a remarkably long finish on which tannins and spices rise nicely. A supple and generous wine, perhaps best matched with large or small cuts of lamb or mutton. Drink now-2016. Score: 93.

 

   Yarden, Merlot, Kela (Sha’al) Vineyard, 2008: Full-bodied, concentrated and well-focused, showing layer after layer of blackberries, plums, espresso coffee and fresh sage, and roasted herbs. Give this one time and it will show hints of leather. An intense wine, but with the potential for elegance. Drink now-2018, perhaps longer. Score: 93.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/food/in-praise-of-merlot-wine/2011/08/03/

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