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'Different' kosher wines for your seder

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Mah nishtanah halaila hazeh mikol-haleilot? Why is this night different from all other nights?

This is the opening to the Four Questions verse, chanted by Jewish boys and girls on seder night for thousands of years. The Four Questions are found in the Haggadah, which is basically the “instruction manual” for conducting the seder, highlighting Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Jewish Exodus from Egypt) and the uniqueness of Passover compared to other nights or holidays.

The first question relates to why we eat unleavened bread (matzah) instead of leavened bread during Passover. The second question focuses on the types of herbs we eat at the seder. The third asks, why on the night of the seder, we dip our vegetables twice, while on other nights we do not dip our vegetables at all, and the forth question asks why we eat our meal while reclining to the side rather than sitting upright.

There are many differences that come with this holiday. I would like to suggest one more alteration to this year’s seder. If on all other nights, we are used to drinking popular wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah and Zinfandel (quite popular in North America), this night, why not try something different like a Carignan, Petite Sirah or even an Argaman-based vino?

Following are some suggestions for kosher wines from relatively “off the beaten track” grape varietals.

Binyamina, Reserve, Carignan, 2010: Over the past few years, Binyamina has been releasing some fine wines under their Reserve label. The Carignan, 2010, is arguably the best and most elegant of the lot. It will also be interesting to see how this wine develops over the next few years. Medium-full bodied, good fruit (cherries, raspberries and other berry fruits) and supporting acidity, followed by notes of dark chocolate and lightly roasted coffee beans, all leading to a long and smooth finish.

Carmel Winery, Appellation, Carignan (Old Vines), 2008: In Israel, much has been said about the Carignan grape, and over the past few years, it has been showing good results. Some call it a quest for the Israeli-Mediterranean grape variety, and while Argaman is the only Israeli grape variety par excellence, there is no doubt that Carignan produces wines that are interesting and diverse. Mostly Carignan and with a dash of Petit Verdot, 14 months in French oak, dark ruby in colour and medium bodied, the wine suggests raspberries, sour cherries, fresh herbs, followed by pleasant peppery and leathery notes, leading to a long finish. By the way, the wine recently received recognition in the Israeli Best Value 2012 competition, which lists Israeli wines that offer the best value for money in their categories.

Dalton, “D,” Petite Sirah, 2010: Made with grapes sourced from the centre of the country (near Gedera). Maturing 12 months in American oak barrels, the wine is dark, almost garnet in colour, and a bit firm when first poured, so allow it to aerate in the glass or bottle. The wine suggests aromas and flavours of black berry fruits, plums, flowers, vanilla and pleasant peppery notes. Good structure and a full body, leading to a long though slightly dry finish. While not quite part of the “off the beaten track’ category, if you are a fan of Shiraz-based vinos, the Shiraz, “D,” 2010, is quite enjoyable.

Golan Heights, Yarden, 2T, 2008: This is an interesting blend made from 50 per cent Touriga Nacional and 50 per cent Tinta Cao, both traditional Portuguese grape varieties with relatively low yields. These two varieties are regaining popularity in the Douro and Dao valleys of Portugal and are used to produce Port as well as dry wines. As I am less familiar with Portuguese wines, it is hard for me to compare, but the result is quite interesting. The Golan Heights’ version, which is aged for 18 months in French oak, is definitely different in style from other red wines in the Yarden series. On the nose and palate, tart cherries, plums, flowers and orange zest, followed by notes of dark chocolate and dried spices, all leading to a long finish. The winery recently released a fortified Port-style wine based on a similar blend, coined T2, which is worth trying.

Recanati, Reserve, Carignan, 2010: Made with grapes grown in the Judean Hills, this wine matures nine months in French oak. It is an enjoyable Carignan with good balancing acidity. On the nose and palate, the wine suggests generous red berry fruits and chocolate, followed by notes of leather and smoked meat, all leading to a long finish. I recently tried the Syrah-Viognier from the same series and found it quite enjoyable. If you are looking for a good-value-for-money table wine, Recanati’s Yasmin Red, 2011, is definitely worth a try and is among the best in its price range.    

Segal, Rechasim, Dovev, Argaman, 2008: One of the only varietal Argaman (crimson) based wines in Israel. For years, Argaman, a hybrid between the Caringan and Souzao grape varieties, has been considered a low-grade grape variety, used for blending, for adding colour to “pale” wines and for the production of sacramental wines. Winemaker Avi Feldstein has managed to produce an enjoyable, concentrated and interesting red wine. The wine is medium-full bodied, with good acidity and pleasant aromas, and flavours of cherries, dark berry fruits, fresh Mediterranean herbs and black pepper, leading to a pleasant finish.  By the way, both the Segal Rechasim, Dovev, Argaman, 2006, and the Rechasim, Dovev, Argaman, 2007, have received international recognition, winning awards at the prestigious Les Citadelles Du Vin wine competition held annually in Bordeaux.

Teperberg, Malbec, Terra, 2009: This is among the few (two or three, if I am not mistaken) varietal Malbec wines produced in Israel of 100 per cent Malbec grapes from vineyards in the Judean Hills. Concentrated purple in colour, this wine is medium bodied with soft tannins, suggesting aromas of various red berry fruits, flowers and young plums, followed by hints of dried meat (reminded me of some South African biltong that I recently tried) and oak, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Not a big wine, but quite enjoyable and different from the everyday Cabernet.   

Tzuba, Harmony, 2009: A new release from the Tzuba Winery in Kibbutz Tzuba, in the Judean Hills. It is made of 60 per cent Sangiovese and 40 per cent Syrah grapes, each developing separately for eight months in French oak, and an additional six months after the assembling of the final blend. Bright red in colour, medium bodied, with aromas and flavours that bring to mind cherries, red and black berry fruits, along with notes of dry herbs and flowers. A medium-long finish with a slightly bitter aftertaste, the Harmony 09 is very easy drinking and enjoyable wine.

L’Chaim and Happy Pesach!

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