It is noticeable that during most military operations or wars, Tel Aviv continues to operate as normal, as though in a permanent bubble. Restaurants remain full, and life continues without any discernible change of direction. This either signifies a sense of denial about the prevailing reality or represents the feeling of sticking up two fingers at the situation, continuing come what may.
This last time, though, things were very different. The country appeared to descend into a kind of collective depression.
Restaurants were empty, consumption was down, and supermarkets were curiously uncrowded. I suppose it is understandable.
Wine is a luxury, and who wants to drink wine with the daily helping of bad news, which knocked the stuffing out of Israelis day after day? Unfortunately, we are doomed, or rather destined, to live this way, and life must go on.
We know “there is a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for peace and a time for war.” Now as we approach Rosh Hashana, I make no apologies: It is a time for wine.
My plea this Rosh Hashana is to use the wine we buy to improve our mood. Just putting a bottle on the table can transform a meal into a banquet. It makes it something special and lifts the cloud of day-to-day problems.
This year it is an extra special mitzva to buy wine, Israeli wine. The growers, wineries and retailers need your help like never before. It is important to support the local industry and drink blue and white.
Remember, the Israel of 40 years ago used to be famous for the kibbutz and the Jaffa orange. If you wanted to send a present, you sent a crate of oranges. Today, the country is known for technology, hi-tech and wine.
However, you can’t give hi-tech as a present to someone, so wine remains the most tangible, visible quality item, which represents the agriculture and technology of vibrant Israel.
Quite apart from its recent plaudits, wine also by a thread connects modern Israel to the beginnings of the Jewish people in biblical times. Israel’s best ambassador today was also the main industry and export in ancient times.
Every person reading this is able to make the decision to become an ambassador for Israel from today. What can you do? Buy Israeli wine, ask for Israeli wine, give presents of Israeli wine and, most of all, drink Israeli wine.
The beautiful thing about Israeli wine is that it covers the full spectrum. Where you buy from can reflect your own prejudices and desires because wine is a representative of a place or region, and Israeli wineries cover the map of Israel.
There are ultra-Orthodox wineries, Israeli Arab wineries and monastery wineries.
There are kibbutz wineries and moshav wineries. Kosher and non-kosher. The list and variety is endless, and the opportunities are entirely open. If you feel that Israel’s main task is to strengthen the Galilee, then you can choose a Galilean wine.
Or after the recent security problems, you may want to support the South, so it is clear that you should buy from a Negev winery.
There is also a wine to suit any political persuasion. If you want to make a statement against international boycotts, then you may buy from the central mountains.
It does not matter. The point I am making is that wherever you come from and whatever your beliefs, there is a winery that needs your support and a wine waiting to be bought. Enjoy the wine you want from the region you prefer.
As I always say before the main festivals, it is a buyer’s market. Prices in supermarkets will be low, and promotional special offers will be everywhere. I suppose if I were to generalize, the best place to buy wines at under NIS 50 a bottle is one of the main supermarket chains. If you want to buy wines at between NIS 50 and NIS 100 and get advice into the bargain, then a specialist wine shop (such as Avi Ben, Derech Hayayin, Wine & More, etc.) may be the best bet.
For the ritual of Rosh Hashana, I recommend a sweet wine. This is the time that Jews traditionally eat sweet things to symbolize a sweet New Year. So why not wine, too? Israel is getting a name for producing outstanding dessert wines.
Unfortunately, most Israelis associate sweet wines with kiddush; therefore, the very word “sweet” has connotations of a cheap and nasty wine, something to be avoided at all cost. However, if I am going to drink sweet, let me at least drink a good one.
There are three outstanding Israeli sweet dessert wines that are world class by any measure. These are the Carmel Sha’al Vineyard Gewurztraminer Late Harvest; the Yarden HeightsWine; and the Binyamina Reserve Gewurztraminer Late Harvest Cluster Select. (Apologies for the long names!) My recommendation is to enrich your festival by selecting a quality sweet wine this year.
Interestingly, all three wines are made from Gewurztraminer grapes. The Carmel wine is a late harvested single vineyard wine from Sha’al in the Golan Heights. The Yarden HeightsWine also comes from the Golan Heights. The grapes are frozen at the winery to concentrate flavors. The name is a play on the words “Golan Heights” and “Ice wine.”
The Binyamina wine comes from the Upper Galilee. It is late harvested, and only selected individual clusters are deemed worthy for making the wine.
The three wines are available in half size bottles (375 ml.) from specialist wine shops.
The wines are nuanced differently, but one can generalize. They are each rich, honeyed with tropical fruit notes and excellent balancing acidity, so neither version appears too sweet or cloying. They have each received international recognition at the highest level.
There are also mid-priced sweet dessert wines made from the muscat grape. These will do the job just as well. Examples are the Yarden, Private Collection, or Binyamina Muscats. They are grapey and aromatic with a spicy sweetness. Any of the lower alcohol Moscatos will also do the trick. These are lighter, less sweet and slightly sparkling.
Teperberg and Young Selected also have a red version if the color is important to you.
Alternatively, if you want something rare and new, then try the Pisga Dessert Wine made by Or Haganuz Winery from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Only 2,000 bottles produced! Perfect for those who want to celebrate the New Year with something special.
At the other end of the scale, if you insist on using a kiddush wine, then at least make it a good one for Rosh Hashana. The best is the unsung but very traditional Kadmon, which is a port-style wine, oak aged. It is rich, sweet with a dried fruit character.
A quality dessert wine will be perfect for kiddush. It will then be suitable to accompany the sweet dishes served, including the sweet halla dipped in honey, the traditional apple and honey, dates and sweet carrot dishes that begin the festive meal. They will even go well with the gefilte fish, matching the sweetness yet toning down the heat of the horseradish. There is nothing wrong with having a dessert wine as an aperitif.
The French do it all the time.
It is then possible to revert to dry wines for the main course and return to the dessert wine with the puddings. Any of the wines mentioned would be ideal. They should be served very cold, even spending a short time in the freezer. At Rosh Hashana, it is worth selecting a quality sweet wine to honor the occasion instead of the lesser expensive, poorer quality alternatives.
It is fortunate that wine is essential to sanctify the festival or holiday. Above all enjoy, for the time for wine is nigh!
■ Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications.