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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When I think about wines for Purim, it’s impossible to think of only one, because I have tasted enough types and varietals to know what I like. That’s the very unique joy of wine appreciation: what is good is what the taster likes. So if you like Bartenura’s blue bottle (the best-selling kosher wine in the world), then by all means be proud and enjoy it, responsibly.

Speaking of responsible imbibing, I want to add my support to enjoying wine only in a responsible, restrained way at all times, always aware that how one acts with alcohol is witnessed by everyone in one’s household on Purim. The wines I recommend are never ones that should be overindulged in, as nothing brings a headache (literally and figuratively) more than drinking high-alcohol wines too much, too often.

Over several tastings, my group of talented (now semi-pro) wine critics found wines that are special, unique treats for the palate, perfect for many kind of seudot. While most of these wines are more expensive than our basic Shabbat wine recommendations, we tried to include a variety of price points so you can “wow” your guests or hosts on any budget. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Shirah Wines Black and Blue 2014 ($43.99 at Wine Country) is one of the most talked about wines of this season. It was mentioned to us as one of the stars of the Ahavath Torah/Wine Country evening of wine and whiskey, and we thank Scott Maybaum of Wine Country for giving us another bottle of this to taste as a group. No one was disappointed. One hundred percent syrah, the grapes come from three different vineyards in northern California. The wine is fruit forward, high alcohol and with light viscosity, and the nose is strong on red berries, with some toasted oak and smoke as well. There is a sweeter finish of blueberries, but the fruit is restrained by the oak and not overpowering. “You can tell by the flavors of this wine that the winemakers are not subdued. They have opinions about what wine should taste like. It’s a special bottle. I taste the fruits of their labor in this wine,” said Eli.

“This is a great wine, a flavor blast,” said Ben. “This would go well with a lighter seudah, like a rosemary chicken,” he added.

The Psagot Peak 2014 ($52.99 at Wine Country) has a bold, plummy taste and beautiful structure that “really smacked me in the face,” said Yishai. This wine is a proprietary blend from Psagot, meaning the grape varietal/percentage breakdown are not shared with the general public. With a 92-point score by Wine Enthusiast, we understand why. They’ve got a real winner here. “This is great wine to go with food,” said Eli, recommending it with meats or pasta. “This would stand up to a steak or pot roast,” he said. “I get a nose of cinnamon/spice and roses. Very smooth, with little to no aftertaste, so I keep going back for more,” said Ben. “This is the best wine to go with food,” said Eliana. Even though this is a big powerhouse wine, it does not have a strong viscosity or thick meatiness typical of other red blends, making it a unique choice for a fleishig seudah that is sure to impress.

The Beit El Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($28.99 at Wine Country) is a warm, special wine with a beautiful, elegant structure and nose of dark, tart berries. It has lovely bracing tannins. The wine consultant for this winery is Lewis Pasco, who is quite famous in the kosher wine world, and who makes wine in a very specific California style (high-alcohol, fruit forward, bracing tannins not unlike Shirah wines’ style). I recently spoke with Hillel Manne, of Beit El, and he shared that their business is not geared toward high-yield vineyards; rather, the family-owned vineyards are shallow, and the weather and terroir in Beit El is yielding, by design, wine grapes with concentrated flavor and higher sugar content, to get good acid. I also spoke with Manne about the location of the vineyard over the green line, and in such an amazing place that was mentioned in the Torah multiple times. In addition to being the place where Jacob dreamed of his ladder, in the second temple period, “it was a place where we have archeological evidence of winemaking and olive oil making on a large scale,” Manne said.

“Everyone who gives us a chance to try the wine because of our place, we appreciate that, but that obliges us to create a good quality wine as well. We want to live up to expectations,” he said. He invites everyone to come visit the winery in Beit El, promising a tour including the region’s great history, that does not disappoint. “New Jersey is a great place to make aliyah from, too,” he added.

“I like this wine and the story,” said Ari. “This is an impressive wine for a meal,” said Brooke.

The Psagot Sinai M Series 2016 (mevushal (!!) and $21.99 at Wine Country) is “sweet for a dry wine,” said Yishai. “This is the polar opposite of Shirah’s Black and Blue,” he added. This cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend has a subtleness to it, but still is full flavored, with warmth. “I’ve never had a wine like this,” said Eliana, noting the nose of the wine was spicy, with notes of vanilla and the flavor had staying power on the tongue. She added the wine had more than a beginning, middle and end, that the flavor had a continuing, memorable presence. This wine is a true bargain at $20 and would go well with pasta with white or red sauce, or fish.

On to our two whites we are recommending: La Vie Blanc du Castel ($19.97 at Wine Country), a young, entry-level wine that is from one of the biggest names for high-end wine in Israel, Domaine du Castel. This is a solid white wine for a good price, and its cool smoothness goes great with foods like salmon, fresh tuna (sushi) or pesto. It is 50 percent sauvignon blanc, 45 percent chardonnay and 5 percent gewurtztraminer. “It’s fresh, bracing and bold, with no acid,” said Chana. “There is a bit of sweetness and soft roundness. It would be good with a nice piece of fish.” “It’s chardonnay-heavy, and that gives a lot of steely sweetness. I’m not used to unoaked whites like this. It makes the wine fruitier,” said Allyson.

The Tzafona Vidal Icewine ($36.99) was a late addition to our list for sweet-wine lovers, or particularly those interested in bringing a really beautiful dessert wine to a seudah. With intense aromas of sweet apricot, apple and peaches, it presents with nice, honeyed viscosity and a smooth texture on the palate. This is a great wine to serve with desserts such as fruity hamantaschen, fruit or jam tarts or fresh berries. For chocolate desserts, Brooke always says, you need a dry red!

Regardless of what you decide to serve, we wish you a responsible, joyous and freilichen Purim.

By Elizabeth Kratz