Wine Talk: Simha panic

Forgot about the wine when planning for a family event? Don’t just agree to whatever is offered – take time to choose yourself.

Wine Talk: Simha panic (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine Talk: Simha panic
(photo credit: 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 ask.
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.
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 price.
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 “Brut.”)
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 romantic.
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 popular.
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 prices.
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 Riesling.
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 warm.
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.
There are 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 it.
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 none.
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.PURCHASING
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 need them.
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 banquet.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both Israeli and international publications.