JWR Revelation Anew

Jewish World Review / May 27, 1998 / 2 Sivan, 5758

It's Shavous, so pass the ... wine

By Avi Z. Fertig

THEY SAY THAT FEELINGS which are most personal are most universal. If so, then to admit that some of the real reasons I especially love Shavuos include blintzes, lasagna, and pickled salmon, I'd be far from alone. However, something not quite universal about Shavuos is the understanding that wine is perhaps the most delicious complement to the entire experience.

Year round, we enjoy opportunities to sample and develop an appeal for red wine. Formal dining, which generally occurs on Shabbes or Yom Tov, often entails a delicious meat meal. Meat meals when paired with wine are simple: Light meats go with light red wines such as Gamay or Merlot and heavier meats beg for Cabernet or Red Zinfandel. A delicious Bordeaux is always welcome while the white wines are reserved for dessert or served before the meal. Shavuos changes everything when dairy meals translate into a worried, "What Do I Do?" The answer in two words: White Wine!

The foods we traditionally enjoy for Shavuos are the perfect venue to display the brilliance found in today's kosher white wines. Over the past several years, the kosher wine industry has evolved to allow for a marvelous selection. But it is my feeling that the variety of white wines for Shavuos 1998 is the most complete to date.

Before diving into a list of the best wines, allow me to briefly explain why white wines are what they are. Generally, white wines are white because the crushed grape juice is not allowed to soak together with the grape skins (which generally contributes to the red color of red wines). However, many white wines are white simply because they are made from white (actually green) grapes. White wines across the board are lighter in body and more delicate in taste compared to red wines.

Tannin, which contributes to the dry, mouth-puckering sensation experienced when drinking many red wines, comes from grape skins. Since white wines spend much less time in contact with the skins than red wines, this sensation is largely absent when drinking white wines. Tannins are also much of the reason that wines mellow or improve with age. The younger the tannins, the more edge the wine has. White wines have little tannin, and therefore do not greatly improve with age. Lastly, white wines taste better chilled. Placing the bottle in the refrigerator forty-five minutes to an hour before serving is generally more than enough.

White wines, like red wines, vary in taste from sweet to very dry. Some of the classic sweet white wines are already well-known. Everyone knows that by specifically asking for a bottle of Rashi Moscato D'Asti, or Herzog Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling, you're getting a high quality sweet wine certain tos meet your expectations. Allow me to provide a few more sure-wins with which you may not be familiar.

Just prior to Passover 1998, a wine tasting at Sherry-Lehman (an prominent wine store in Manhattan) indicated that a wine called Premier Cru Chablis was difficult to keep on the shelves. While this name might be familiar to those who have enjoyed Kedem Chablis for years, there is little comparison between these two wines.

The Premier Cru Chablis is an elegant white wine from the Chablis region of France with a subtle, yet remarkably rewarding burst of fruit flavor and aromatic floral notes. Every swallow reveals the range of complexity this well regarded wine possesses. Best served with popular Shavuos entrées such as Blue Fish, Cod, thick hearty soups or Gespacho, the Chablis has the ability to match up to these foods by masterfully interlacing the flavor families present with the subtleties of the wine.

Another welcome addition to your Shavuos table will be the Alphonse Mellot Sancerre. The product of a distinguished wine making family in France, offered for the first time as kosher, Sancerre is a delicate yet flavorful white wine with the perfect balance of smoothness, body and aroma. The wine responds and enhances one's enjoyment of spicy lasagna, any heavily sauced pasta or a nicely seasoned salmon filet.

On Shavuos, sweet flavors predominate when blintzes, noodle kugels or anything with fruit or cinnamon is served. Fortunately, there is a dazzling variety of sweet or semi-dry kosher white wines from which to choose. Herzog Selection Chateneuf from the Bordeaux region of France is perfect. A finely balanced wine that goes marvelously with a remarkable range of foods Chateneuf is prone to being used up quickly. Also, the ever-reliable Kedem Estates Blush Chablis pairs brilliantly with sweet foods and offers a wonderful flavor of its own.

Quiche, widely enjoyed these days by real men everywhere, is still traditionally a side dish. Yet, it takes on a life of its own when paired with the delicious Gamla Semi-Dry White from the Golan Heights Winery in Israel. Other suggestions which pair superbly with a variety of foods ranging from spinach salad to pasta salad, seasoned potatoes or fruit salads are Gamla Muscat or Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc.

I'm running out of foods to mention, but my list of wines is going strong. For example, I recommend you try Gan Eden Gewurtzraminer and Black Muscat. Both of these wines have crisp yet sweet characteristics which may have you inventing foods to try them with. For a drier, crisp wine that you'll enjoy sampling is the Baron Herzog Chardonnay. The New York Times did an entire segment on this wine earlier in the year and they were very accurate in portraying it as a moderately-priced wine of exceptional quality, which is another way of saying the stuff is good and doesn't cost much.

If you're looking for an unusual dessert wine to sample, pick up a bottle of the Yarden Muscat. This wine used to be called Port Blanc, but for marketing reasons was repackaged in an elegant new bottle and renamed Muscat. On the other hand, if you're looking for a simple, inexpensive wine which always comes through, pick up a bottle or six of Baron Herzog White Zinfandel. It's always a winner.

Last but not least is a selection which just won a gold medal in the prestigious Florida Tasters Guild wine competition. Joseph Zakon Muscatini-White was a new release this past Passover. It certainly has taken off. However, Joseph Zakon has informed me his stock is running thin. I recommend securing at least a case before the supply is depleted. The Muscatini is really an all-around perfect Shavuos wine. It's light, sweet and very flavorful. I know you'll enjoy it.

Hope you have a happy, healthy and spiritually rewarding Shavuos. Until next time, l'Chaim.

New JWR contributor Avi Z. Fertig is the director of the Kosher Wine Institute and frequently authors articles on the topic of kosher wine.


©1998,Avi Z. Fertig