What a fine religion it is that stipulates that we have to drink four cups of wine! But which wines to choose? Unhelpfully, most articles about wine in the media are written for wine lovers and not wine drinkers. As a result, the wines recommended tend to be the more expensive ones, as though Seder night were a tasting for wine connoisseurs only.
In fact, there are two factors that make it crazy to pour wines that are too good on Passover. First is the number of people. It is likely to be your largest family get-together of the year. There may be more than one family sitting together to tell the story of the Haggada. There will even be some distant relations you see only once a year, on Seder night. If you decide on expensive wines for such large gatherings, it will be expensive.
Secondly, in any nuclear family, even of the biggest wine experts, there are those who don’t like wine or don’t appreciate it. It may be the mother-in-law or the great-aunt.
If that is the case, then the selection of a special wine is simply wasted.
So this year, I want to concentrate on budget wines. For me, a budget wine costs less than NIS 40 or NIS 50 if not on promotion.
This is the “sensible” recommendation. And in truth, this is where most wine purchases all over the world lie.
I always say Selected is the biggest-selling brand in Israel. However, no one has ever come up to me and said, “I enjoyed that Selected Cabernet last Shabbat.” Yet millions of bottles of Selected are sold each year. I have come to the conclusion that there are wines that people buy to drink and wines that people buy to taste and talk about.
Why is it that all the tastings always involve the more expensive wines and that wine writers almost exclusively write about the wines that win the medals or the high scores? I have no answer, but most of the wine we actually drink is in the lower price category.
The main wineries playing at the lower price points are not surprisingly the largest.
They are the wineries with the volume production that allows them to compete in supermarkets. The five largest wineries according to the 2013 harvest were Carmel, Barkan-Segal, Golan Heights, Teperberg and Tabor. These are the wineries that will provide the widest choice, and they are likely to be everywhere.
Then there are the medium-sized wineries: Binyamina, Tishbi, Recanati, Dalton and Galil Mountain. They each produce more than a million bottles a year. They are likely to be in the better and larger supermarkets.
Finally, there are three large wineries in the Jerusalem area: Arza, Zion and Jerusalem, which are likely to be stronger in the supermarkets in religious areas.
By deciding to buy on price, the choice of wine, kiddush wine or grape juice is likely, by definition, to be from one of these 13 wineries.
To give you further guidance, Best Value 2014 took place in March. This is a competition that judges the best-value Israeli wines on an annual basis. The most successful wineries this year were Tabor, with four gold medals, followed by Carmel, Golan Heights and Teperberg, with three each. The full list of results may be found on www.sommelier.co.il Remember, as you peruse the shelves, that it is never a good idea to go for the least expensive wine. The packaging costs of labels, corks, capsules and bottles are relatively fixed. So the difference between a bottle of NIS 20 and NIS 40 is the wine itself. It is a false economy to go for the cheapest.
Also avoid the ridiculously good-value, one-off sale price. Often there is a reason.
The wine may not have sold or may not be tasty. You could be in for a disappointment if you seize on one particular wine at a price that is too good to be true.
However, never fear. Before Passover, it is a wine buyers’ market. The prices are at their lowest of the year, and the promotions are at their most competitive.
I recommend wines in the three for NIS 100 category or between NIS 30 and NIS 40 a bottle. This is a price range that has gone through a quality revolution in recent years.
These days, there are very few bad or undrinkable wines. Of course, it is a lot more difficult to make wine of 100,000 bottles than a prestige, limited edition wine of 10,000 bottles.
However, there have been very impressive improvements in the cheaper price category.
There you may find the following brand names and labels: Barkan Reserve, Binyamina Yogev, Dalton Canaan, Har Tabor, Golan’s Hermon, Carmel Private Collection, Recanati Yasmin and Segal Fusion. These are some of the best-value wines in Israel today.
Of course, Seder night is a little like a Roman banquet. For a banquet, there is a traditional order to things that also relates to wines. Sparkling wines are served first as an aperitif. A dry white wine, maybe a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, will be served with the first courses and the fish.
A red wine, maybe a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz, would be served with the meat course. Finally, there would be a sweet dessert wine to accompany the dessert.
It is possible you could decide to follow the same idea. Choose your four wines: sparkling, white, red and dessert wines.
They would be in that order because it would make sense to choose dry wines before sweet, and light ones before heavy.
This follows the flow of most meals, and it also fits in with our Seder night banquet.
Which wines to choose?
Many traditionalists like to start with a kiddush wine for the first glass. There are many choices, such as Condition, King David, Kings, Hallel and Yashan Noshan. If a sweet kiddush wine is right for you and it is a fixed part of your Seder table, like gefilte fish on Shabbat, then I won’t be able to persuade you otherwise. Others will buy grape juice. Arza, Carmel, Teperberg and Zion are the main producers.
In a new patent, many will buy both and mix the grape juice and kiddush together.
My recommendation for the first glass is to choose a moscato style wine. These are low alcohol, slightly sparkling and sweet.
These are perfect brunch, picnic or anytime wines, but that also make ideal modern wines for kiddush, combining the attributes of a kiddush wine, grape juice and a sparkling wine. Also it is an ideal wine for people on an empty stomach to start with. The best moscatos are Dalton, Hermon, Teperberg and Young Selected. Of course, moscato is white. If you prefer a red, there is the Young Selected Carignano and Teperberg Red Moscato.
The second wine, I believe, should be a white wine, and it can be continued with the first courses of the meal. Here there are two basic choices to make: dry or semi-dry, light or heavy. As it is a long evening, I would choose a lighter, refreshing wine: Tabor’s Har Chardonnay, Recanati Yasmin White or Hermon White.
All these are dry. If you want semidry, the Barkan Reserve Emerald Riesling could fit the bill.
For the third cup, I would select a red to also enjoy with the meal. The questions are whether you would prefer a blend, like Hermon Red and Yasmin Red, or a varietal like Teperberg Silver Merlot or Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon. The lighter-style reds I would serve slightly chilled. Put them in the fridge for half an hour before serving.
I would choose a dessert wine for the final cup to round off the evening and to end the Seder with a sweet taste. This could be Teperberg Silver Riesling, Private Collection Muscat or Yarden Muscat. Serve them ice cold. Put the bottle in the freezer, but just don’t forget it! Have a kosher and happy Passover.
Be sure to enjoy and make the most of the mitzva of the arba kossot. Le’haim!
Bigger and better
Twenty-one years ago, the first Derech Hayayin (Wine Route) store opened its doors on Hashmonaim Street in Tel Aviv. It really brought about a wine retailing revolution in Israel. It was not the first quality wine shop here, but it was the first one on an international scale.
It is still a wonderful wine venue. Visit today, and you will be impressed by the size of the shop. The fact that it is a professional wine store and is manned by wine knowledgeable staff makes it special. Furthermore, the cellar has a treasure trove of wine collectibles arguably unequaled elsewhere.
Wine activities, tastings and courses make the place a central hub for wine culture.
From this one store, Derech Hayayin grew into an impressive chain. There are now 10 branches situated in the area between Ra’anana, Modi’in and Ness Ziona. However, it is the newest branch, which recently opened, that is attracting all the superlatives. It is the most impressive and visually stunning wine store in the country, and it dwarfs even the impressive Hashmonaim branch. It is not an exaggeration to say that wine retailing in Israel has been taken, once again, to new levels.
This store is a showcase of Israel’s finest wines. Both large and small wineries, old and new, are well represented. It is a center that sells some of the world’s most famous wine brands imported to Israel. The wines are set out floor to ceiling in an open plan. There are a number of well-lit islands, each displaying the best buys of the day. Visually, the store is breathtaking.
The shop contains two tasting corners – one for wine and the other for specialist whiskeys. In another corner is a glassenclosed room. This is the “holy of holies” for the finest wines and rare magnums for private collectors.
Ninety percent of the shop is for wine, but if you want a locally made boutique beer, a deluxe vodka, rare malt whiskey, quality olive oil, chocolates or wine accessories, you will also be able to find them there.
In an exciting innovation, they also plan to open a wine bar in the adjacent building. This will offer a choice of 50 wines open by the glass at any one time.
The new Derech Hayayin is situated at 9 Derech Hashalom in Tel Aviv, just off the Ayalon Highway (come off the Ayalon at the Azrieli Towers). The building may be recognized by the slatted wood facing and the red neon sign of Derech Hayayin, written in Hebrew. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays.
Welcome to Israeli wine retailing of the 21st century. It is well worth a visit just to see it, but also to browse, taste, schmooze or buy.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery in Israel. He regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications.