This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post.
THE COVENANT KITCHEN
The Covenant Kitchen is a newly published book, for the 'new Jewish table'. It is a fun read and a great cookbook filled with the flavors of Italy, Provence, North Africa, Asia, California and Israel. It is written by Jeff & Jodie Morgan, co-owners of the Covenant Winery in Berkeley, California.
Jeff Morgan has a twinkle in his eye with the look of someone who has seen it all but still lives life to the full, and his wife Jodie is charming and vivacious. They are veterans of the food world having written no less than seven cookbooks, but this is their first on the kosher kitchen. Jeff Morgan is also a veteran of the wine world, which he has straddled as a customer, writer, critic and producer. Their winery produces some of the finest kosher wines in the world.
I particularly like the book because a fair bit is devoted to wine. I think every cookbook should have wine in it somewhere, but it rarely happens if ever. However, the Covenant Kitchen offers an introduction to wine which will interest both the wine lover and the person new to wine, who wants to learn. It is pitched exactly right.
Furthermore, every recipe has a wine matched to it. So if you wanted to know which wine goes with hummus, you need look no further. At the same time, for those uptight about matching food with wine, the Morgans explain that the perfect match does not exist and that it is all to do with personal taste.
I particularly liked their advice about whether it is worth buying expensive or cheap wines: "If you can tell the difference, then it is worth paying for. If not, buy something inexpensive".
Another comment I picked out was: "Wine is like real estate, where value is often measured by perception of quality." Smart, and so right.
For those who hoard special bottles for some special time in the future, the Morgans urge "Why not tonight?" and explain "wine does not need to age to taste good." The wine section is full of information and advice with a few gems thrown in.
The meat of the book is its recipes. Each is clearly marked pareve, meat or dairy. There are all the standards including their own take on kosher classics like ‘Cowboy Cholent’. But it is also a cookbook that will be attractive to the keen cook whether Jewish or not. For instance the Lavender Goat Cheese Tart, Grilled Sardines, Spiced Lamb Tagine and Orange Olive Oil cake are particularly enticing.
I always consider wine, food & good company is a holy trinity and if one part of the three legged stool is missing, the experience is not the same. The Morgans add a fourth leg. The spiritual aspect.
It was kosher winemaking that bought Jeff Morgan, a lapsed Jew, back to Judaism. He was driven by the urge to make, in his words, the best kosher wine in 5,000 years.
Well he more than succeeded. The king and queen of wine critics are of one mind. Robert Parker referred to Covenant as "the finest kosher wines on planet earth." Jancis Robinson MW referred to it as "maybe the best kosher wine I have ever tasted." Praise indeed from the doyens of wine criticism.
I was fortunate to be invited to a very rare vertical tasting of his Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley from the 2003 to the 2012. It was held in Jaffa in a beautiful setting, overlooking the Mediterranean. I have to admit they were an outstanding range of wines. The 2003 is still drinking well. For what it's worth, my favorites were the Covenant 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Jeff Morgan had a Barmitzvah at the ripe age of 54, goes regularly to Shul and tears up when explaining how making kosher wine has bought him to Judaism. Just in case you don’t get the importance to him of being Jewish, the names of his wines make it quite clear. Apart from Covenant, his other labels have names like Red C, (with a bid red C on the label), The Tribe, Mensch and Landsman. This is a message of someone who has a pride in his Judaism and does not mind who knows it.
The Morgans were in to food and wine before immersing themselves in kosher wine through the Covenant Winery, and now kosher food through this great new book. Next stop? Why, Israel of course! Seems like a natural progession.
They have had a great excuse to become regular visitors. Their daughter Zoey has come to live here and they have recently bottled the very first Covenant Israel wines. There is a delicious, refreshing rosé (in another life Jeff Morgan was Mr. Rosé, but that is another story), virtually sold out on release. There is also a red to be released in September. This is a Syrah, which will keep drawing you back to take another sip.
The labels have the characteristic Morgan wit. In this instance, the word Covenant written in blue on a white silhouette of the map of Israel. It is not for nothing that the Covenant from California is a Cabernet Sauvignon, and Covenant Israel is mainly from Syrah. He believes that is the variety to follow here.
What's next? Maybe a Covenant Israeli Kitchen?! We will just have to wait and see.
In the meantime I firmly recommend The Covenant Kitchen, published by Schocken Books and the OU Press and available on the Covenant Website www.covenantwines.com for $35 or from Amazon.
Mira Eitan is a person with as much experience of bars as you would want for someone writing a book on spirits and cocktails. She has literally worked in every facet of the industry. Working as a barmaid, running a bar, participating in professional tastings, not forgetting a lifetime of frequenting bars, drinking with friends. Whichever bar she will be in, she is the one with the biggest smile and the most people around her.
She has an enormous amount of product knowledge, but also knows the stories and folklore surrounding the brands. This encouraged her to start to write for a crowd hungry for information.
There are hundreds of books about wines of every type from anywhere and everywhere. Articles explaining the secrets of the bar were few and far between. However she does not just know the theory. She also knows the context in which drinks are served and the type of things customers and enthusiasts yearn to know. She took to her new career as a journalist like a duck to water.
Eventually she reached the top of her profession, becoming the number one female journalist specializing in wines and spirits in Israel. Then she edited the magazine Wine, Gourmet & Alcohol, the county’s leading drinks magazine in the country, for many years. A long time in the drinks industry has not dulled her passion and little girl excitement. She is a long standing friend, but I am not alone. Everyone knows and likes Mira.
She has now distilled all the years of bars, drinking, shmoozing with drinks people into an excellent book called Happy Hour. It is beautifully presented, handily compact and well balanced between the story or anecdote and the practical. If you want to understand the difference between whisky and whiskey, learn about what is Al Namroud, or need to learn how to make a Margarita, this the book for you. Regrettably it is only as yet in Hebrew, but there are not so many books like this around and I thoroughly recommend it for professionals or amateurs alike.
The book is published by Lunch box, specialists in cookery books. ‘Sha’ot Smehott’ (Happy Hours) is available from bookshops and the Derech Ha’Yayin wine stores. Alternatively it may be purchased off the website http://www.mira-eitan.co.il/ for 98 shekels.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications.