Hanukkah began yesterday. The eight-day Jewish festival of lights is celebrated nightly with the lighting of the Menorah and prayers. Hanukkah also includes special foods specifically chosen as part of the celebration. Let’s take this year’s Hanukkah one step further and pair some high quality kosher wines with the foods of Hanukkah.
The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication”. Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC after the successful Maccabee Revolt against the oppressive Greek-Syrian rulers. After the Maccabees, led by Judah, defeated their much stronger foe they entered the Temple to light the seven-candelabrum Menorah, to find there was only a day’s worth of ritual oil remaining. However, the one-day supply kept the Menorah lit for eight days; thus leading to the 8-day celebration.
Hanukkah is not a religious holiday for the Jewish community; therefore, most of the celebration takes place inside the home. It does, like Passover, symbolize freedom from oppression and embraces religious freedom; however, it is not Biblically or Torah ordained. Hanukkah involves a nine candle Menorah, with the center candle used as a helper to each night light a new candle in addition to the candles lit from previous nights. In addition to lighting the candles, Hanukkah includes exchanging gifts, singing songs, and playing dreidels.
In keeping with the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah includes specific foods as part of the celebration. These foods, like Passover, provide the celebrants an inter-active experience in commemoration of the events that took place in 164BC. The main focus on Hanukkah food is the tradition of eating fried foods, such as latkes and jelly donuts, in honor of the legendary oil. Embracing the fullness of Hanukkah includes enjoying kosher wine. Don’t cringe! As I shared with you in “Three Outstanding Wines for Passover,” kosher wines have come a long way over the years. In fact, there are so many high quality kosher wine producers after having these wines you will seek them out again and again. Furthermore, just because a wine is kosher does not mean it cannot or should not be enjoyed by Gentiles too.
Let’s take a moment to learn a bit and dispel some myths about kosher wine. “When it comes to taste, there’s no difference between kosher and non-kosher wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, Executive VP Marketing and Director of Wine Education at Royal Wine Corp. — the top kosher wine purveyor in America. “In fact, many kosher wines are award winning – beating out their non-kosher competitors for top varietal prizes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and rosés as well.”
- Kosher wine is made in precisely the same way as ‘regular’ wine. The only difference is that there is rabbinical oversight during the process and that the wine is handled by Sabbath-observant Jews.
- The number of producers of kosher wines has dramatically increased in the past 10 to 20 years. This is due to an increase in interest from consumers who are adding to their kosher wine portfolios, and in some cases building actual kosher wine cellars in their homes, a rare sight just two decades ago.
- While a number of well-known wineries in countries from all over the world including France, Spain, Italy, and Argentina are crafting special runs of kosher wine, California is not. With the exception of Marciano Estate, which produces a kosher run of their Terra Gratia, a high-end Napa Valley Blend, all kosher California wine is made by fully kosher wineries such as Herzog Wine Cellars, Covenant and Hagafen.
- Not all Israeli wines are kosher. Only about 30% of Israeli wine brands are actually certified kosher, but these kosher wineries produce over 90% of the Israel wine industry’s output.
“There’s a common ‘urban legend’ that wine is rendered kosher after being blessed by a Rabbi – that is incorrect. Actually, for a wine to be made kosher there are strictly supervised purity guidelines that need to be followed from the moment the grapes enter the winery to when the wine is bottled,” adds Buchsbaum.
Here are four kosher wines to pair with Hanukkah, or to drink and enjoy any time of year.
There is no wine that pairs better with fried food in my opinion that bubbles. Can I get an amen? The 2009 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Blanc de Blanc ($30.99) is 100% Chardonnay crafted in the traditional method from grapes sourced in the northern Galilee appellation, the region’s coolest and highest quality vineyards. It offers persistent fine mousse with flavors of fresh cut flowers, citrus zest, orchard fruit, crushed stone, and crusty bread. Whether choosing traditional potato latkes with applesauce or sweet potato latkes, the Yarden Blanc de Blanc is a delicious pairing, kosher or not.
The 2016 Galil Mountain Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99) is a great selection to serve as an appertif with the Traditional Hanukkah dairy menu to honor Judith. An assortment of cheeses, buckwheat cheddar blini with smoked salmon, and latke cups will pair deliciously with the wine’s notes of stone and tropical fruit, fresh citrus, grassy herbs, and crushed stone minerality. The wine’s bright acidity and refreshing nature will please your palate the entire way through.
Brisket takes center stage as Hanukkah’s main entry. Although there are a wide variety of way to prepare it, nothing beats a good Cabernet to pair with it. The 2016 Galil Mountain Winery Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.99) is crafted of grapes from the Upper Galilee mountain range, where grapes have been cultivated for over 2,000 years. This single variety wine is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of black cherry, blackberry, plum, cassis, leather, tobacco, and eucalyptus dance across the palate in a full-body wine with a slight rustic nature; balanced, with a long finish.
Brisket isn’t the only meat enjoyed over Hanukkah. Roasted chicken, lamb, matzoh lasagna, salmon, and braised short ribs are also prevalent throughout the week. For a meatless option try spinach, feta, and mushroom pie. The 2016 Golan Heights Winery Mount Hermon Red Wine ($11.99) is a great wine to pair with these meals. Crafted of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, I was amazed by this wine. It is lush and juicy on the palate, notes of ripe red and blue berries, violets, spice, chocolate, and orange zest dance across the palate. It was balanced wine with medium body, acid, tannins, flavor intensity, and finish. However, for the price this wine way over-delivers. It is not complex but very easy to drink and enjoy.
Although we are not Jewish we embraced the first night of Hanukkah with a delicious meal of roasted brisket with gravy, potato latkes, and fresh apple sauce.
For all of you observing Hanukkah and wish you eight days filled with blessings, joy, and light. And for the rest of you I encourage you to seek out and try some kosher wines. If you seek out these high quality producers you will not be disappointed. And at these prices really, what do you have to lose? Cheers!