The first step to enjoying wine at home is deciding where to buy it. There are many more options today. Firstly, there are many supermarkets. Some specialize in cheaper wines but others have a full range including some more expensive choices. Most of the supermarkets sell only kosher wines, not just Israeli but also imported kosher wines. Tiv Taam is an exception in that it has both kosher and non-kosher Israeli wines and a broad selection of imported non-kosher wines.
However, whatever the depth of choice, the supermarket is undoubtedly the best place to find wines under 50 shekels. Here though, you are usually on your own. You gingerly arrive at the drinks section, with ‘bottle of wine’ written at the bottom of your long shopping list. You are under pressure to get back to the children and so don’t have much time. You are faced with what looks literally like a wall of wine, where nothing seems familiar and are thinking “what the hell am I going to buy?” There is normally an added pressure. You are likely buying for someone whom you are convinced knows more than you do. It may be your partner or the friend coming for Shabbat. You don’t want to let the side down, but are inwardly cursing why the wine buying duties are left to you.
The key is simply not to panic, when faced with rows of wines that at first glance look the same. It may help to try and look for a brand or winery you are familiar with, or the name of a wine you know you. Maybe a grape variety, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Gewurztraminer, is what first comes to mind. Decide the price you are prepared to pay in advance. Also you can feel relaxed that if you buy because you like the label, you won’t be the first!
Take a good look at the promotions. There are always special offers, particularly before the festivals. However, don’t automatically be seduced by the least expensive. The cheapest is often not the best buy. The fixed costs of a bottle, label, cork and capsule are reasonably similar, so the difference between a wine costing 20 skekels and 40 shekels, is the wine itself!
Avoid wines that appear not to have sold through. Older vintages, scuffed or stained labels are signs that all might not be well, as is the color of wines. Avoid whites which are too yellow and roses that are too orange. Also avoid the supermarkets where there is poor wine management. The guide to look for are too many badly kept wines or unkempt shelves.
There is a sweet spot and that is the three for 100 shekel section. Here lie many bargains, with pretty good quality. Brands like Carmel Private Collection, Golan Heights Winery Hermon, Recanati Yasmin, Tabor Har and Teperberg Impression always punch above their weight. They will provide good value at a very reasonable quality per price ratio.
In supermarkets, the largest selling wines are, (not in order), Carmel Selected, Barkan Classic, Golan Heights Hermon and Segal’s Wine. If you are totally stuck, follow one of these. However visits to supermarkets today have many more options for the adventurous wine buyer. For instance Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, have a section for premium wines in a large number of stores. There, you can potentially purchase a wine from 15 shekels to 200 shekels. If you are already shopping there to buy milk, look around. The range of wines may surprise you. Of course these days, you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your armchair. Purchasing online is a growing market and is providing new options for the wine lover. If you are buying your groceries on line, there is no reason not to add wine to the list.
The alternative is to make a special visit to a wine shop…and there are hundreds of these. I live in sleepy Ra’anana and even there, there are four specialist wine shops. Go to nearby Kfar Saba and they have wine stores the size of small supermarkets. At a wine shop you will have someone to talk to, someone knowledgeable to ask and maybe even an opportunity to taste. A good shop will have the more expensive wines lying down, wine fridges and some form of temperature control in the shop itself. Look for the signs of professionalism and go to where you receive the friendliest welcome and the best service. Derech Ha Yayin is arguably the chain with the most advanced wine culture in the greater Tel Aviv area, though Wine & More is not far behind. Avi Ben in Jerusalem, and Special Reserve in Haifa also offer added value service. In outlying areas look for the nearest ‘Yayin B’Ir’, the largest chain in the country.
What to buy is not so difficult. I suggest you go through the same process that you go through when deciding what to cook. Is it a casual dinner for old friends, a formal dinner where the boss is invited or a traditional festival or Shabbat meal? Maybe it is for a Shabbat brunch, a party or a barbeque. Remember you only have to buy one or two wines whereas you have to buy many food ingredients. You also don’t have to match wines for different courses as in a restaurant, because everyone is eating the same. It is always best to keep it simple: buy what you like and what you can afford. It is no more complicated than that.
If you want to learn and develop your wine knowledge, then experiment. Choose something new. If purchasing for a special meal, you can match the wine to the food. However it is not uncommon these days to ‘match the wine to the mood, not the food!’ You can also match the wine to the weather. You do not want to drink a high alcohol blockbuster red on a hot, humid summer’s day, even if it is the best wine. It simply is not suitable. There are options for everything. Whites are more popular and acceptable these days and rosés are in. Possibly you want to buy Lambrusco, Moscato or Blue Nun (aka Blue Wine in supermarkets) to suit your preferences, or maybe you will prefer to buy up to impress your guests. It is all ok. Do what you want and don’t feel pressurized. Live and Let Live with wine too. It works both ways. Allow yourself the freedom to choose. By the same token, let people enjoy what they like, without feeling superior.
When you arrive home, store the wine on its side (if it has a regular cork). This is so the cork will stay wet and not dry out, which would let in too much air. A cardboard wine box (aka case) makes a good wine rack if you have nothing else. Lie it on its side, or upright with the bottles upside down. Try and store your wine away from sunlight, vibration and heat….all of which are enemies of your wine. A wine fridge is best, but wine is hardier than you think. I am constantly pleasantly surprised how old wines show even when not stored at ideal temperatures.
How much to buy? There are 5 or 6 glasses in a standard 750 ml. bottle depending on the size of glasses and how much you pour. Remember some of your guests won’t drink, whilst others may have 2-3 glasses. If you want to serve more than one wine, bear this in mind. Serve dry before sweet, white before red and young wines before older wines. The classic banquet order could be a sparkling wine as the aperitif, white wine with the first course, red wine with main course, a sweet dessert wine with the dessert and a fortified wine after dinner. However, for most dinner parties a white and red wine will suffice, and for the regular meal, one wine will be enough. Alternatively you can theme the wines like you do with food by choosing wines for the fun in comparing them. By the way, if your guest brings a bottle, don’t feel you have to open it unless you are informed in advance.
If you have a dinner party or Shabbat meal, put your white or rosé wine in the fridge at least 4 hours before. If you forgot to do this in advance, put it in the freezer, but don’t forget it there. The quickest way to chill a wine is to put it in a sink or bucket of iced water with a sprinkle of salt. I personally recommend putting quality red wines in a domestic fridge for 20 minutes. In our climate and with our relatively high alcohol content, the wine will keep its shape better when chilled ever so slightly.
Many will insist in opening the bottles in advance to allow the wine to breathe. However, this is not all that effective as only the top part is exposed to air. If you fear the wine is closed and needs airing, then you are better advised to open it, pour it into a clean water jug and then pour it back in the bottle. This will help the wine open up! Decanting into a fancy decanter is an option if the wine is old enough to have thrown a sediment, and it is a great idea if you want to create an impression!
Ideally you need two glasses: one with a larger bowl for red wines and a smaller, narrower one for white and sparkling wines. However, most households have one wine glass only and there is no problem with that. Nowadays there are professionally sized wine glasses available in supermarkets and houseware shops which are not expensive.
I suggest washing and rinsing the glasses if they are taken from a cardboard box or a wooden cupboard. It is terrible if everyone will think the wine is disappointing, when it is actually the glassware. You will be surprised how often this occurs even in professional tastings. When you pour for your guests, a third full is enough in a generously sized glass, or half full in a small glass.
It is stylish to cook with the wine you are due to drink, but I would rather not use my precious wine in a dish, where it will be indistinguishable from a cheaper wine. Just do not cook with a bad wine, in the same way you will only use good ingredients in the cooking. Any off, undesirable flavors will become more concentrated when cooked.
The main choices with choosing a cooking wine is to think color (red or white) and sweetness (dry, semi dry etc). Price is not an issue, so it is certainly ok to buy cheap. The color of the sauce will be affected by the wine selection. The main decision is to decide whether to add the wine early in the cooking procedure where its flavors become more integrated or later, where the dish will have more of a winey character. A useful tip: If you do not finish a wine, boil the remains in a pan, so that the alcohol evaporates, then freeze the remainder in an ice tray from the freezer. You then will have a cooking wine stored in useful iced cubes, ready for future use.
As soon as you realize that you are unlikely to finish a bottle, put the cork back in. If it does not go in, turn it around and try again (it will be easier) and then put it in the fridge. Air and warmth are enemies of wine. Without too much exposure, the wine will last a good few days in the fridge. Officially, by the book, it will last two to three days. In actual fact it will be drinkable for longer. Another tip is to take an empty plastic bottle of water, fill it with the remaining wine. Squeeze the bottle as you screw the top on to create a vacuum. There, you have stored the wine perfectly for future use.
Finally, wine is meant to be enjoyed with family, friends and food. You may choose to entertain but you are not on trial. You are meant to enjoy the company. So relax and enjoy the occasion. Uncork a bottle and allow the wine to work its magic.
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over thirty years and he is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine.’ He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com