How To Choose Wines For Rosh Hashanah
Plus 12 recomendations to pair with our popular tzimmes chicken dish.
Plus 12 recomendations to pair with our popular tzimmes chicken dish.
When it comes to selecting wines for your Rosh Hashanah meals, there are a variety of possible approaches to contemplate beyond the more conventional pursuit matching wines menus. We’ll return to that approach in a moment, but first let’s briefly cogitate over our options a moment.
Consider new wines. Second only to Passover, after all, Rosh Hashanah starts an important retail period for the kosher wine market. The weeks leading up to that first Yom Tov meal typically see the release of new wines, new vintages, sometimes new wineries and even new wine producing regions, so options for new wines abound. For some, the idea of new wines for the new year resonates.
Another approach is to consider appropriately cellared, more mature wines. Some retailers, after all, either acquire older but well maintained stock of wines from distributors or producers or pushing wines out of their warehouse to accommodate new releases. Still other retailors sometimes hold onto, and properly cellar, choice wines that they recognized would improve with age. Or, better still, some of us maintain our own private cellars—everything from expensive custom–made wine rooms and rented professional wine storage, to a couple of mixed cases at the back of a closet, or even just a special bottle or two stashed away in the steadiest low temp available (under a cupboard, under a pile of clothes, whatever). Rosh Hashanah is a great opportunity to bust out such special bottles.
Some folks, however, prefer to lubricate their Yom Tov meals and satiate their guests’ thirsts with reliable staples from their repertoire of crowd pleasing wines. That is, one can always consider old favorites. This could be anything and everything from the always-easy-to-find Bartenura Moscato D’Asti, or a dry bubbly. Maybe a Covenant winery cab, to a Shirah ‘Power to the People’ release, or even a Four Gates Cabernet Franc that is exclusively available in highly limited quantities only directly from the winemaker.
Which brings us back to perhaps the most popular approach of all: endeavoring to match the wine to the menu.
The so-called rules for pairing wine with food—like lighter wines go with lighter foods and richer, full-bodied wines go with richer foods—are no different for Rosh Hashanah than at any other time. Such “rules” are dependable guides on average and so can be very handy, but should not be thought of as absolute. The goal of pairing wine with food is, as always, balance; neither the food nor the wine should overpower one another.
More often than not, this isn’t too difficult—though traditional or symbol-loaded menus sometimes can be tricky. Especially when it comes to adding sweet to savory, as is common enough in Rosh Hashanah preparations.
In general, for example, sweet foods can make dry wines (i.e., wines that have little to no perceived sweetness) taste sour or bitter. So more often than not, savory dishes laden with sweet ingredients—such as dried apricots and medjool dates—can be especially challenging for dry wines.
Consider, for example, this year’s featured roasted chicken tzimmes recipe. Given the sweetness and fruitiness of this dish, a safe option would be to go for a complimentary and sympathetic—rather than contrasting—pairing of fruitiness and perceived sweetness. Wines that are fruit driven with some perceived sweetness, such as a sweeter Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and off-dry Riesling, are often great with sweet and savory combos. Reds can be a bit more niggling, though there are definite options to be found. When in doubt, of course, go with dry bubbly. A nice brut champagne, or its equivalent from another region, is typically Zelig-like wine when it comes to matching foods. As I’ve noted many times before, of course, tastes are subjective and there is no perfect pairing—so one should not fret too much over this.
To get the ball rolling, consider these pairing suggestions to accompany Ronnie Fein’s Roasted Tzimmes Chicken.
Baron Herzog, Chenin Blanc, California, 2017 ($10): This is mild, light, ripe, fruity, slightly sweet, and makes for very easy-drinking. Since not every wine need take a starring role… Available at Skyview Wines & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale, NY, (888) 759-8466, and Union Square Wines & Spirits, 140 Fourth Avenue, NY, NY (212) 675-8100.
Abarbanel, Lemminade, Gewürztraminer, Vin D’alsace, Old-Vine, 2015 ($23): This is a beautiful, bright, vibrant, somewhat rounded yet refreshing and very slightly sweet Gewurtz with tingly acidity and wonderful aromas. It has flavors of white peach, lychee and wild flowers, with notes of ginger and cloves. Serve only slightly chilled. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 793-6629, and online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Gewürztraminer, 2017 ($22.99): This semi-dry/semi-sweet Mediterranean Gewürztraminer is a balanced, fresh, crisp, clean, lean, and vibrant take on the classic Alsatian style. It offers aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, apricots, lychees, and honey with a distinct Crème Brûlée quality. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Pacifica, Evan’s Collection, Riesling, Washington, 2017 ($19.99): This is fun, easy drinking, tasty, off-dry yet crisp, with a nice pleasing hint of residual sugar, enjoyable lush citrus fruits and earthy mineral notes and great balancing acidity. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Goblet, Riesling, Seneca Lake, New York, 2017 ($37.99): Full and vivacious with clean, ripe citrusy aromas and flavors (key lime?), along with passion fruit and apple skins. Great balancing acidity; refreshing and tasty. Very easy to quaff but rewards contemplative concentration too. More “nearly dry,” or even “mostly dry,” than the more traditional “off dry” offerings for the general Finger Lakes region, but the beautiful kiss of sweetness is significant enough to prevent this being fully dry. Very yummy. More please. Available directly from the producer: www.gobletwine.com, (718) 781-8301.
Covenant Israel, Blue C, Viognier, Israel, 2017 ($28): a lovely balanced, medium-bodied, oily, aromatic and fruity wine with notes of peach, clementine, apricot, vanilla, honeysuckle, and stone fruits; a nice saline undercurrent adds some lovely depth too. The finish has just enough sweetness and tartness to, I think, work well with this chicken tzimmes. [Covenant Israel’s Blue C Adom (Red) would actually be a great red option here too, but I think this white will work slightly better with the sweetness of the dish.] Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 793-6629.
Tzafona Cellars, Nava Blanc, Ontario, Canada, 2016 ($16; mevushal): This light and easy blend of 67% Vidal and 33% Chardonnay, offers fruit, flowers, and sweetness in roughly equal measures, with a nice touch of stone fruit, orange blossom, a little slate, and enough acidity to hold it together and keep it pleasing. This sort of uncomplicated wine is not to everybody’s tastes, but is yummy all the same and should play nicely here. Serve it well chilled. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Golan Heights Winery, Hermon Moscato, Galilee, 2017 ($12.99): Pleasantly aromatic (white peach, green apple, honeysuckle), with enjoyably bright, clean and sweet flavors of stone and tropical fruits, crushed almonds and a touch of spice. Sweet, but balanced and fresh.
Bartenura, Moscato d’Asti, Italy, 2017 ($15-though often on sale for less; mevushal): This is a semi-sweet, slightly fizzy, low-alcohol tropical fruit and citrus flavored wine. Not complex or ever meant to be anything but fun and light, it would actually go very nicely with this dish. Available at… where isn’t this available? Try Skyview Wines & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale, NY, (888) 759-8466.
Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Barbera Rosé, 2017 ($30): This Barbera is a tasty, zingy, and refreshing Israeli rosé with balanced acidity and fruity aromas and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and pleasing hints of under-ripe plum. Admittedly, this one tastes slightly better in Israel than the imported bottles I’ve tasted here, but remains yummy all the same. Available at Skyview Wines & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale, NY, (888) 759-8466.
Carmel, Appellation, Rosé, 2017 ($20): A blend of Judean Hills-grown Grenache and Tempranillo, this is fun, rich, fruity, and lively with slightly tart cherry, stone fruits, raspberry, a little flinty minerality, and lovely citrus notes. Medium-bodied and slightly sweet, but well-balanced. Available at Columbus Avenue Wines & Spirits, 730 Columbus Ave., (212) 865-7070.
Louis Blanc, Juliénas, (Beaujolais), 2015 ($20): This is lovely, fun, delicious, and, well, imbued with a sense of joy. Generously aromatic with beautiful fruity and floral notes—strawberries, peaches, red currants, violets, peonies, mild cinnamon, perhaps a touch of muted bubblegum, and an endearing earthy richness. With mild but silky tannins and solid balancing acidity, this is simply delightful. While this might seem a stretch, at first glance, this should nicely pick up on the fruitiness of the tzimmes while doing justice to the chicken’s inherent savory-ness as well. Available exclusively online from Kosherwine.com (866) 567-4370, or Jwines.com, (800) 269-0604.
Vitkin, Red Israeli Journey, 2016 ($24): This lovely, bright, supple, fresh and refreshing blend of carignan from Mount Carmel, and syrah, cabernet franc and marselan from the Upper Galilee, showcases red and dark fruits, sweet spices and Mediterranean herbs, and has enough contemplative oomph to engage the senses and accompany meaty Israeli foods. Available at Taste Wine Co, 50 Third Ave. (212) 461-1708.
Gush Etzion Winery, Spring River, GSM, 2014 ($28): This engaging and thoroughly enjoyable blend of 54% Syrah, 36% Mourvedre, and 10% Grenache is less Rhône and more Eastern Mediterranean—light, bright, fresh, and refreshing. Medium-bodied with forward and generous dark fruit notes, decent spice, a touch of oak, and a hint of earth, balanced by soft tannins and nice acidity; offers a deeply pleasing finish. Very yummy overall. This one is possibly a bit more of a stretch, as the sweetness might shift this into the wrong zone, but I think it’ll work nicely. Available online from Kosherwine.com, (866) 567-4370.
Of course, when in doubt about the best approach to selecting wines for your Rosh Hashanah meals, offer multiple wines. That way you can adopt each approach to choosing wines—selecting a new release, a tried and true favorite, as well as a mature wine. Not finishing opened bottles in one sitting is no crime, but leaving guests thirsty is—at least in my book. Why start the new Jewish year off on a bad foot? Drink more wine instead. L’Chaim!