We Jews have been bought up with a love hate relationship with sweet wines. From the Brit (circumcision) at a mere eight days old, when a smidgeon of sweet wine was given to the baby soothe the pain and shock, to Festivals and Shabbats, where we would celebrate with a glass of Kiddush wine and then say the blessing, only uttered when partaking of wine.
I was born and brought up in England, so the wine that was part of my youth was Palwin. If you were American it may have been Manischewitz, Mogen Dovid or Kedem. In Israel it could have been Konditon, King David or Yashan Noshan. These wines fill us with nostalgia, memories of happy family occasions and religious ritual. However the wine lovers amongst us recoil at the thought of these memories, and many have an aversion to sweet wines since then. Some still keep them on the table whenever liquid religion is required, but drink table wines on all other occasions. For most of these people, bought up on Manischewitz and Palwin,, sweet equates to something cheap associated with these memories. This is a pity, because some of the most expensive, rarest and most memorable wines in the world are sweet. Also if we have been making wine for 5,000 years, the wines our ancestors would have been drinking for most of that time will have been sweet.
At Rosh Hashanah I believe it is time to take the sweet wine out of the cupboard figuratively speaking. Here we eat sweet things pre meal so we can wish everyone a sweet and happy new year. This cumulates in the dipping of a slice of apple into honey. However it should be a good sweet wine – a dessert wine, not any old Kiddush wine. Rosh Hashanah is once a year.
To those who recoil at the concept of drinking sweet before a meal, may I remind you the French often drink Sauternes or White Port, ice cold before a meal. Then after your apple and honey and sweet wine, you can return to regular table wines for the festive meal.
The dessert wines I most recommend are the Tzora Or produced by Tzora Vineyards (pretty scarce and probably sold out. If you can get a bottle, treasure it!) or Yarden HeightsWine by the Golan Heights Winery. These are outstanding, world class pudding wines, both made from Gewurztraminer. New, and excellent too, is the delicious Tulip Viognier Dessert Wine, that I have just tasted. Or a Moscato would be suitable. It may even be better and more practical for a larger family gathering. Carmel’s Buzz, Golan Heights Winery’s Hermon, Teperberg and Zion Winery have good Moscatos, either made from Muscat Canelli or Muscat Alexandria….and if the color is important (as many prefer red wines for religious ritual), then Teperberg and Zion both have Red Moscatos, made from Muscat Hamburg. My favorites are the Hermon Moscato and the Zion Red Moscato.
So my recommendation is to start with a dessert wine, and then go on to regular wines for the meal. Here are some options:
Gush Etzion, Lone Oak Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2020. This is a gentle Sauvignon Blanc, without too much tropical fruit and a harsh acidity. It is soft, refreshing and well made. Gush Etzion have some of the finest vineyards in the country. NIS 69
Golan Heights, Yarden Gewurztraminer 2020. In Alsace, Gewurztraminers are more often than not, bone dry. Here they tend to be semi dry. The Golan Heights Winery has made this Gewurz under the Yarden label dry for the first time. So you get the familiar Gewurz blowsy nose, but it finishes dry and refreshing. A great addition, for those that like aromatic wines. NIS 65
Jermann Pinot Grigio 2019 (Italy). The world is crazy about Pinot Grigio. This is a good value expression from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north east Italy. It is crisp with understated aromas of wild flowers and white peach, and a pronounced and refreshing acidity. NIS 75
LaCheteau Haut Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (France). Grassy Sauvignon Blanc with citrus notes and a smoky minerality, from the Loire Valley. This is not in your face like New Zealand Sauvignons. Beautifully fresh, crisp and fragrant…..and it is Kosher. NIS 75
Skouras, Salto Wild Yeast 2019 (Greece). Really interesting and original, made from Mavrofilero. A new import from Greece. It is dry, slightly saline with floral and lime notes, and broad flavors in the mouth and lingering finish. Domaine Skouras, from Nemea in the Peloponnese, is one of the wineries that was part of the wine revolution in Greece. Look for it in the Wine & More chain. Lovely wine. NIS 75
Tzuba Chardonnay 2019. Tzuba has beautiful vineyards high up in the Judean Hills. This wine is a clearly defined Chardonnay, fresh and modern, with integrated oak that is quite clearly part of the wine but does not dominate. NIS 80
Nana, Chenin Blanc 2020. Grown in Mitzpe Ramon, Chenin Blanc seems to be a grape variety that blossoms in the Negev.This is crisp, citrusy, minerally and refreshing. It is one of our better wines from this variety. NIS 95
Yatir, Darom By Yatir Rose 2020. Roses in Israel tend to be pale pink or onion skin colored. The last vintage has brought about a change. Roses with more color, almost more a weak red in color than pink. This is a great example and it has more character and flavor than many. Perfect to accompany Meze. NIS 80
Jerusalem, Limited Edition Rose 2020. Pretty pink color, with good fruit, and a refreshing crispness. Delightful rose. There are two Jerusalem Wineries (only in Israel!) To avoid confusion, this is the Jerusalem Winery situated in Kyriat Arba and it is part of the same stable as the Hebron Heights Winery. NIS 85
Binyamina, Reserve Marselan 2019. Marselan is a new oleh to Israel, but has settled in like an old timer. It is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache (the classic Bordeaux and Mediterranean variety.) In Israel it is a winner. This is juicy fruity with touch of spice. NIS 59
Hayotzer, Legato Barbera 2018. Very over heavy bottle, but the wine is the opposite. Medium bodied, with a delicate cherry and plum nose. Light in the mouth, with a good acidity. It was very drinkable and nice surprise. NIS 60
Barkan, Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. A ridiculously heavy bottle and imitation metallic label give a look similar to an expensive prestige wine. However forgetting the bombastic packaging, the wine is itself good value and well made. Full flavored yet nicely balanced. NIS 70
1848 Winery, Orient Red 2018. A beautiful ‘old world’ style of wine. Understated, elegant, with a silky grip and showing subtle complexity. It is a fascinating blend of Marselan, Argaman & Syrah. Lovely expression from 1848 Winery. NIS 80
Lotem, Allegro 2019. A blend of the Cabernets, Franc and Sauvignon, with a little Nebbiolo, the famous variety used in Barolo. The wine has a cherry berry aroma, and is refreshing with good acidity. A very pleasant summer wine. NIS 80
Dalton, Majestic Old Vines 2019. A medium bodied wine with red fruit aromas of strawberries and cherries, and a hint of Mediterranean herbs. It is also quite refreshing. It is made from old vine Carignan. This is a variety Israel has almost adopted. It has been here 150 years. NIS 89
Drimia, Sahar 2018. Basically this is a Cab Merlot with a spritz of Carignan. It is actually a very nice wine. Good black berry fruit, quite full but smooth with flavor that runs through to a balanced finish. This small winery is situated not far from Yatir in the southern Hebron Hills.NIS 90
Segal Whole Cluster Syrah 2018. A newly launched single vineyard Syrah. It is fruity, peppery, with a touch of smoked meat and a long, lingering, flavorful finish. It is reasonably priced too. The winemaker is Ido Lewinsohn who is now a Master of Wine. NIS 98
Teperberg Essence Malbec 2017. A deep, fruit driven but complex Malbec from Israel’s third largest winery. It is a quality wine and a nice example of an Israeli Malbec. NIS 100
Bravdo Coupage 2019. A blend of the Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, with Syrah. It is a rich concentrated and harmonious blend, quite oaky but well integrated. Bravdo is the winery of the two professors, one of which, Prof. Ben Ami Bravdo, was recently recognized for a lifetime’s work in viticulture. NIS 120
Netofa Tel Qasser Red 2018. This is a blend of Grenache and Syrah. The wine has nice weight, is not over oaked and has a pleasant chewy, meaty character. Always performs. A regular favorite of mine. NIS 130
Recanati Petite Sirah Reserve 2018. I love Petite Sirah. It seems grow well here. This is one of the best. Deep and full bodied and characterful. It has lifted aromas of violets and ripe black fruit, earthy, slightly dirty flavors and a long finish. NIS 129
Jerusalem, Petit Verdot Reserve 2018. This is the second winery of the same name, but this one really is based in Jerusalem, at Atarot. It is more often known as ‘Jerusalem Wineries’ or ‘Jerusalem Vineyard Winery’, though confusingly the winery can’t seem to decide and both names are used! Petit Verdot reminds me of a more one dimensional Cabernet which is deep colored and tannic. However this is a beautifully sculptured wine. Great fruit, elegant yet with a long powerful finish. Jerusalem Vineyard Winery is making some really nice wines these days. NIS 130
Alexander, Reserve Cabernet Franc 2018. Rich, opulent, oaky, full bodied, but definitely Cabernet Franc, showing good typicity of the variety. Alexander produces wines of a certain individual style, but you have to give credit, they are in balance and well made. NIS 150
Chateau Golan, Geshem 2018. A GSM (blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre). Perfumed fruit, medium weight, balanced finish. One of our best wines in the Med blend genre. Chateau Golan is one of our finest small wineries. NIS 220
Drink well, be happy and wishing you a Shana Tova v’Metuka. A Happy & Sweet…..and Healthy New Year!
The writer is a wine industry insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wine for 35 years. He is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wines and is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com
Photos: אנני סלבו, אורי גרון והיקבים