Wine Talk: Simha panic
LAST UPDATED: 11/14/2012 10:42
Forgot about the wine when planning for a family event? Don’t just agree to whatever is offered – take time to choose yourself.
wine Photo: Courtesy
You are all aware of the “simha panic.” The bar mitzva or wedding is just weeks
away. You have taken the time to hear the options for the food menu, maybe even
have gone to a tasting. However, you have forgotten the wine. It is unfamiliar
territory, and you don’t know what to buy or even the questions to
Most people take the easy way out, choosing whatever the caterer
suggests. If you do want to take more time to consider the choice of wine, then
the guide below may help you.
APERITIF ON ARRIVAL
Ideally, a sparkling
wine should be served on trays by waiters moving among the guests as they
arrive. Champagne is the classic wine for the aperitif. However, you don’t need
to pay for real champagne, which can be very expensive in Israel. Some Israeli
sparkling wines are as good as any champagnes but at a far more reasonable
It is tempting for a wine lover to choose a bone-dry sparkling
wine because that is what they like. Remember, for a function you are buying to
satisfy the lowest common denominator in the wine lover stakes. So a sparkling
wine with a touch of delicate sweetness may be a better choice. (Confusingly,
“Extra Dry” on the label will be sweeter than a sparkling wine described as
What caterers love to do is add cassis to a sparkling wine to make a
Kir Royale. This makes the sparkling wine sweeter, and it will certainly be a
beautiful color. Others may choose to add a tablespoon of Ruby Port to the
sparkling wine. However, I can’t help thinking that any addition destroys the
quality of the sparkling wine. When I receive a Kir Royale, I always think they
have done it to mask the quality of a pretty dire sparkling wine. My advice is
that if you want the sweetness, buy a sweeter sparkling wine. If you want the
pretty color, buy a rosé. I am a fan of the blush or rosé sparkling wines for
weddings. Their delicate, salmon pink color seems to be suitably
Many caterers and banquet halls readily offer a sickly sweet,
bubbly, soapy, often colorful liqueur cocktail before an event. Again, I suggest
sticking to straight sparkling wine, which has never been more
There are many imported Cavas, Prosseccos and fizz wines
available today, but there are enough really good Israeli wines. Carmel (Private
Collection & Selected), the Golan Heights Winery (Yarden & Gamla),
Tabor, Teperberg and Tishbi all have good sparkling wines at a full spectrum of
You will need wine at the bar. Normally, the wine
offered will be the cheapest wine from a recognizable large winery, but the
label will be unrecognizable because it will only be used in function halls. It
will normally be a red, maybe a Merlot and a white, which is usually Emerald
The sensible choice for the bar is to rely on the house wine of
the caterer, which will automatically be the cheapest wine their negotiating
skills could arrange. However, if you are buying wine for the bar, the aperitif
and the meal, you can save bottles by choosing the same two wines to cover every
situation. Cabernet Sauvignon and a semi-dry Gewurztraminer may be an upgrade
from the Merlot and Emerald Riesling.
The standard at most event
halls is to find a red wine sitting in the middle of your table, usually
chilled. For a white wine, you have to ask the waiter – if you can find one. I
might surprise you. I don’t mind if the red wine is cold. By the time it is
drunk, it will be pleasantly chilled and refreshing rather than too
The wines you are offered can be upgraded. You may choose a more
expensive menu to give your guests better food. You can also ask to upgrade the
wine by getting the next grade up for a few shekels more.
creative options. I recently went to a function where a basic white wine was served in ice buckets
on the tables. At a side table were served magnums of one of Israel’s finest
prestige wines. The host was making a statement and complimenting his guests.
What was interesting was that most chose the wine on the tables. Only the people
that valued the expensive wine and knew what it was took the trouble to seek it
out. This method enabled the host to offer a far better wine but not
waste the small number of bottles on those who would not appreciate
Beware. If you bring you own wines, make sure you don’t have to pay a
corkage fee to the caterer, whose interest may be to push the wines that he is
contracted to sell. You also should check whether you will need Mevushal
(pasteurized) wines, which may be requested by the banqueting departments of
certain hotels. I have heard of too many lastminute panics when the host
found out that the wine he had carefully purchased and delivered was adjudged to
be unsuitable a few hours before the guests were due to arrive. No harm
in checking beforehand.
You should always ensure there is too much wine.
It would be embarrassing to run out at your daughter’s wedding. However, make
sure that the caterer does not open all the bottles in advance (which happens
too often), because when you want to collect the unopened wine, there will be
The best choice is a light, fruity red wine and an off dry white
wine. Recanati Yasmin, Yarden Mount Hermon, Dalton Canaan and Carmel Ridge are
brands with a red and white wine that exactly fit the bill.
How many bottles to buy? I believe the size of an average champagne flute glass
used at weddings will allow you to get eight glasses out of a
bottle. Allow for six glasses for a wine served in a normal wine glass.
In Israel, I calculate conservatively on the basis of one glass per person. The
people who drink more than one glass are balanced out by those who don’t drink
at all. There should certainly be at least enough red and white wines to
put a bottle of each on every table.
As for the wine, buy in bulk to get
the best price. Retailers will give discounts on purchases by the case. A savvy
retailer may allow you to return unopened bottles. In Israel, I would go for a
balance of 60-65% red wines, 35-40% white wines.
If it is a
do-it-yourself affair and you want to chill a number of bottles quickly, the
best way is to put the wines in a large plastic container or a bathtub. Fill it
with ice, which may be purchased from a nearby gas station. Pour in water to
cover the bottles and add a little salt, which will quicken the cooling process.
If you use a domestic fridge, put the wines in at least two hours before you
If you have a simha coming up, let me wish you mazal tov,
followed by a hearty le’haim. Remember, it is wine that turns a meal into a
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both
Israeli and international publications. email@example.com