Wine: A Favorite of the Seven Species | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Wine: A Favorite of the Seven Species

Wine: A Favorite of the Seven Species

Wine options to enhance your Tu B’Shvat celebration

Wine options to enhance your Tu B’Shvat celebration

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There are a variety of different traditions and customs for celebrating Tu B’Shvat, but the most common include planting trees and gathering with family and friends for a meal that includes fruits and nuts native to Israel, and, of course, wine.

While not mentioned in the Torah itself, the day is nonetheless a significant date in the Jewish calendar. As the Mishnah notes, “The first of Shvat is the new year for the tree according to Beit Shammai, [however,] Beit Hillel says on the fifteenth of [that month].” (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 2a. Beit Hillel won this round as usual.)

This is the source for the two names by which this day is known. “TU” is the traditional Jewish designation for the number 15—the Hebrew letters “Tet” and “Vav,” have the numeric value of 9 and 6, respectively. It would be more logical to use the letters “Yud” [numeric value of 10] and “Hei” [numeric value of 5] to represent 15, but combining those letters would also inadvertently spell one of the names of God.

The other name for the day is “Rosh Hashanah La'Ilanot,” or "New Year of the Trees.” While the primary significance of this day had to do with Jewish agricultural rules and tithes related to fruit-bearing trees, in the contemporary period, it has been adopted in modern-day Israel as essentially Israeli Arbor Day, a day for ecological and sustainability awareness and for planting trees.

So, even though most Israelis will still be bundled up for winter, Tu B’Shvat is considered the start of spring in Israel.

One of the customs that has caught on over the last two decades, as Tu B’Shvat has been enjoying a significant recrudescence in the wider Jewish world, is the notion of the Tu B’Shvat seder, patterned after the Passover seder. While some of these seder customs seem more eco-spiritual or even hippie-dippie than conventionally religious, their original initiation was in the sixteenth century, by the kabbalistic master Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 –1572). The original Lurianic Tu B’Shvat seder entailed eating a variety of different kabbalistically-symbolic fruits and, like on Passover, drinking four cups of wine.

The traditional and seemingly inescapable culinary treat of the day is dried fruits and nuts. Why dried fruit? Since fresh fruits were typically unavailable to Jews living in Europe and North Africa during the winter months, traditional Tu B’Shvat meals involved dishes based on dried fruits and nuts. It is also traditional to prepare other foods using the “seven species” described in the Torah (Deut. 8:8) as being abundant in the land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

For wines, it seems most appropriate to turn to producers noted for their sustainability and eco-conscience practices. I have selected two whites and two reds: two from Israel’s sustainability-focused Galil Mountain Winery, one from California’s Napa Green Certified Hagafen Cellars, and one from the Austria Bio Garantie certified organic De La Rosa Vineyards label from Mönchhof, Burgenlan, Austria. Without further ado:

De La Rosa, Ur Kasdim, Sweet White Sparkling Muscat Ottonel, 2016 ($27; mevushal): This fun, supple, enjoyable, frizzante-style sparkler made from late harvest Muscat Ottonel (part of the Muscat grape family) is flowery and fruity, with distinct Muscat characteristics. Makes for a great alternative sweet sparkler.

Hagafen, Lake County, White Riesling, Napa Valley, CA, 2016 ($24; mevushal): this runs a tad sweet, but is light, fun, and full of tropical fruits, with balancing, refreshing acidity; absolutely delicious.

Galil Mountain, Ela, Upper Galilee, Israel, 2014 ($22): This rich yet supple red blend (61% Barbera, 30% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Grenache) offers aromas of dark plum, sour cherry, raspberry, mocha, and perhaps a subtle waft of toasted oak, with a ripe fruit palate that also offers blackberry, pomegranate, and a little thyme. The tannins grip a bit, but are nicely integrated. The finish is more sour cherry.

Galil Mountain, Alon, Upper Galilee, Israel, 2013 ($20): With expressive and aromatic ripe fruit, a sweet red and dark berry-driven nose, a touch of mint, and some herbal notes, this somewhat stocky-figured bruiser proves remarkably agile and fit on the palate—more ripe fruit (tangy blackberry, black cherry, and dark plum), a savory quality, nice rounded acidity, a significant tannic lift, and a lightly spicy finish.

L’Chaim!

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