Shavuot is a festival dressed in the color white. White clothes. White night. White dairy. White wines. White wines are late comers in Israel, but now wine lovers are coming round to the fact they are perfect both for our climate and for our cuisine. They are also, contrary to the image, a far better match for cheeses than red wines. The timing of Shavuot, the opportunity for cheese and wine parties, has encouraged the notion that Shavuot is the White Wine Festival.
However, on Shavuot, not only white wines are suitable. Roses are becoming increasingly popular. There is an avalanche of new roses coming onto the market. In Israel, if there is a new trend, everyone weighs in. Rose wines, with aromas reminiscent of red wines and freshness associated with whites, are also perfect for our climate, good with food and a good accompaniment to cheeses.
In western culture, cheese is normally part of a meal and there is usually a whole course devoted to cheese. The English will normally enjoy cheeses at the end of the meal, after the dessert. This would traditionally be accompanied by a glass of Port, the famous fortified wine from Portugal. The French will serve their cheeses after the main course and before the desserts. This enables the red wine served with the main course to be continued with the cheeses.
In countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands, cheese is often served at breakfast. This would also be true of Israel. The famed Israeli breakfast covers a large range of dairy products, where there are no problems of kashrut, (mixing milk and meat.) In countries like Greece & Spain, cheese will often be served as part of the mezze or tapas at the beginning of the meal.
In Jewish culture though, we have the traditional of serving dairy products at Shavuot. This gives the perfect opportunity to hold a cheese and wine party. The wine world is complicated enough. Well the cheese world is if anything even more complicated. There is such variety. Cheese may be strong flavored, fat, acidic or salty. It can be hard, soft, creamy or crumbly. It can be matured, pasteurized or unpasteurized; made from goat’s milk, cow, or sheep. President Charles de Gaulle once said: “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? And he was talking only about France!
However, to prepare a cheese and wine party is relatively easy to do. You will need to decide if you want to go international or Israeli. There are plenty of good quality options here too. As a simple guide, I suggest you choose at least four different types of cheese as a minimum. These could be a hard cheese, a soft cheese, a goat’s cheese and a blue cheese. This is enough to give the necessary variety.
The hard cheese may be something like Emmental or Gruyère. A good white wine match would be a Chardonnay. An aged hard cheese, like Cheddar, would be better with a red wine. In the same way the English add milk to lessen the tannin of the strong tea they drink, the cheese will soften the tannin of the wine. Remember an older, matured cheese will be tangier with a more pronounced acidity. Note cheeses start bland and become stronger as they age. With wine it is the opposite. Older wines are less tannic and astringent.
The goat’s cheese could be a Chèvre. The options are endless because Israel excels in this category. There some wonderful Israeli goat’s cheeses from boutique dairies. They tend to have a strong goaty character, but can go with either white or red wines. However, the classic combination for a young goat’s cheese is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc, which is very aromatic, totally dry and with a sharp, refreshing acidity.
The soft cheese, may be a Brie or Camembert. If this style of cheese is too young, it will be virtually tasteless, and your guest will wonder what all the fuss was about. However, if it is older, and runny, it can be so pungent as to be too strong for any wine. A balance between the creaminess and the flavor is what is desired. This is the hardest category to find a match. A creamy, fatty cheese will make most reds seem like water. The fat in the cheese will neutralize the tannin, but an oaky and tannic red wine will taste slightly metallic when these cheeses are ripe and runny. A Brie or Camembert would best be served alongside a light red wine with lots of fruit, good acidity and no tannin.
The classic blue cheeses are Stilton and Roquefort. The match made in heaven is to drink them with sweet wine because the saltiness of the cheese and sweetness play a concerto of matching flavors in your mouth. Opposites attract. Salt accentuates tannin so the myth that red wine goes with all cheeses is shown to be most false when a red wine is matched with a blue cheese.
That only leaves us with the dessert to eat after the cheeses. Obviously, this is likely to be …a cheesecake! No surprises there. The best wine to enjoy with the classic New York style of cheesecake is a fortified Muscat or Moscato
Serve the cheeses at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge in advance. Decorate the cheese platter with grapes, served cold from the fridge, chutney, with some walnuts and finally a few cut vegetables, like carrots and peppers of different colors. Celery also provides a crisp, refreshing partner to cheeses. Buy some crusty baguettes, which you can cut just before people arrive, and have some healthy crackers available too.
As for wines, we have to be practical. You can’t have available every option I have mentioned. However, for the absolute minimum, you need a white wine, a red wine and a dessert wine. Provide one glass for everyone and you will have prepared the easiest party you have ever hosted.
Israeli cheeses are so good and have gone through a similar quality revolution as Israeli wines. We all love cheeses, but sometimes worry about eating too much for health reasons. How lucky we are that the Jewish faith has catered for us a festival, where we can make the most of the opportunity with a smile! Here are some recommended wines for this Shavuot:
Carmel Private Collection Chardonnay 2019. A clean, medium bodied modern style Chardonnay. More appley than buttery, with good acidity. A good food wine from Carmel, the historic winery of Israel. The wine represents excellent value. NIS 40
Bravdo Sauvignon Blanc 2019. This is a wine produced from one of the very few genuine estate wineries in Israel. It comes from Karmei Yosef in the Judean Foothills. It is beautifully aromatic, with a pleasantly sharp finish, which makes it refreshing. A classic to accompany goat’s cheese. Ben Ami Bravdo, founder of the winery, is a legendary figure amongst viticulturists. NIS 80
Dalton Wild One Chenin Blanc 2019. I love this new collection of wines. They come under the heading Asufa, have attractive bright colored labels and they showcase the good work of Dalton’s talented young winemaker. The wine has a mouth coating presence, notes of honey, peach and melon, with a broad finish. NIS 75
Hayotzer Moscato 2019. Fun, grapey, low alcohol, slightly sparkling, sweet white wine. Recommended at any party, because even those who do not drink wine like it. May be used in the Shavuot context to drink with blue cheeses. Comes in a blue bottle. Copying Bartenura and Blue Nun, the idea of a blue bottle is spreading like a rash! NIS 35
1848 Winery, 2nd Generation Rose 2019. A clean, good value rose with a beautiful salmon pink color, a delicate berry aroma and a vibrant, crisp finish. 1848 Winery was founded by the 8th generation of the Shor family, that founded their family winery in 1848 in the Old City of Jerusalem. NIS 60
Yarden Rose 2019. A crisp, delicate, refined rose. One of the many new premium roses being launched on the market. It is not Yarden’s first rose, I remember the beautifully named White Harvest from the late 1980’s. This is uniquely made from the Portuguese variety Tinto Cao. The Golan Heights Winery has always been a pioneer in Israel, so it is appropriate that they have a quality rose in their Yarden portfolio. NIS 89
Teperberg Inspire Destitage 2019. Fresh, fruity and fragrant. This is a nice blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Colombard from the largest family winery in Israel. This would be a great aperitif. Nice wine, but I can’t explain the name Destitage. Its relevance and meaning is beyond me, but the winery’s use of made up names should not detract from the wine. Teperberg is the most improved winery of the last decade.
La Foret Blanche Talpiot 2018. ‘The White Forest’ name refers to Yatir Forest covered with snow. This new enterprising winery offers a white made from Viognier and Chenin Blanc. The Viognier provides the aroma and fatness, and the Chenin Blanc the balancing acidity. A new, innovative, small winery launched this year of all years, is worthy of support. NIS 65
Barkan Reserve Gold Gewurztraminer 2019. Offered at a party, the bottle was swiftly finished. Proof of the great popularity of these wines. Aromatic, with a touch of sweetness, this wine meets the mark for lovers of Gewurz. NIS 40
Schorr Grapes of Joy Marselan 2018. Very fruity, with mouth filling flavor and a clean fresh finish. This is a new label of on old, historic winery. Great drinking wine, good to accompany those soft cheeses needing a fruity, non-tannic red. Marselan is proving to be a very successful variety here. NIS 40
Yatir Creek 2016. This is a full bodied slightly funky blend based on Syrah. It does not lack complexity. This wine should be decanted or simply poured out and then returned to the bottle. It needs the aeration. It will be the perfect accompaniment to hard, aged cheeses. NIS 150
Photos: Haggit Goren, Oren Goren, Eyal Koren,