It’s Hanukkah, so some festive libations are definitely in order — whether having friends and family around for cocktails and candles, or for a festive dinner party.
There is no “perfect” pairing of wines with your Hanukkah meal. The goal of pairing wine with food is balance; neither the food nor the wine should overpower the other. General rules of thumb, like lighter foods with lighter wines and richer foods with full-bodied wines, can be handy, but aren’t absolute.
The interplay of wine and food is necessarily subjective, but the differences among wine varietals and styles can seem dramatic. Experience is the surest guide, so experiment in advance. When in doubt, provide guests with multiple options.
It’s also important not to overlook good dessert-style table wines. They not only offer a lower-calorie sweet alternative for those who eschew fried jelly donuts, chocolate coins and the like, but can be paired well with such desserts and other classic Hanukkah foods like latkes with apple sauce or sour cream.
Indeed, sweet wines may be paired beautifully with both sweet and salty foods such as chocolate-covered pretzels or kettle corn. Pairing sweet wines with salty foods can be magical—making sweet wine taste less sweet, while making the salty item seem more savory than salty. The components seem to counteract each other a bit, allowing both to shine.
Here are some wine options to consider for Hanukkah:
Herzog, Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, 2015 ($25; mevushal): this luscious, aromatic, fruity yet serious sweet wine offers aromas and flavors of fruit, custard and a smidgen of candied ginger. It has enough acidity and complexity to keep it both balanced and interesting.
Covenant Zahav, Late Harvest Muscat Canelli, Suisin Valley, 2014 ($44; half bottle): this fabulous, rich, sweet wine offers aromas and flavors of fruit and candied nuts. The finish is a tad clipped at first, but as it breathes it lingers with some additional sweet complexity.
Hagafen Cellars, Dry White Riesling, Coombsville Napa Valley, Rancho Weiruszowsky Vineyard, 2014 ($24; mevushal): this light, dry Riesling is superb with a nose of lychee, peach, lemon zest and a touch of ginger-heavy allspice, following through on the palate to fruit flavors.
Covenant Lavan, Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain, California 2013 ($38): from the Scopus Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, this young yet refined, rich and creamy wine begins floral and rather fruity on the nose, leading into a more Burgundian frame with fruit flavor notes and toasted almond.
Hagafen Cellars’s 2013 Cabernet Franc ($39): a lovely, refined medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavors of black cherry and savory chocolate. Softening but noticeable tannins and lively acidity make this one to hold for a few more years at least, but enjoyable now with a hearty, meaty meal.
Pacifica, Evan’s Collection, Pinot Noir, Oregon, 2012 ($25; mevushal): opens with ripe red and black cherry and mushroomy earthiness. Nicely balanced with good acidity and tannins, it’s yummy now and gets better as it breathes in your glass.
Finally, it should be noted that the available kosher box wines lend themselves rather well to large festive gatherings too. Everything from food prep to kibitzing may be enhanced on the cheap and from a seemingly bottomless reservoir:
Chenin, Baron Herzog Wine Cellars, California, 2014 (1.5 liters; $15.99; also available in 750ml bottle format at $9.99; OU certified, mevushal): sourced from Clarksburg grapes, but made in a different, drier style from the more familiar Baron Herzog brand, this is bright, crisp, frisky and fruity, yet dry.
Zin, Baron Herzog Wine Cellars, California, 2014 (1.5 liters; $15.99; also available in 750ml bottle format at $9.99; OU certified, mevushal): sourced from Lodi grapes, but distinctly different from the more familiar Baron Herzog Old Vine Zin, this is light, dry and plush.
Of course, wine shouldn’t be your only alcoholic beverage. So, spirits-wise, think in terms of American whiskies like bourbon or rye, either straight, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Consider, for example, this pre-dinner cocktail:
Orange Whiskey Sour: In a mixing glass filled at least 2/3 with cracked ice, shake together 2 ounces of bourbon (I prefer Maker’s Mark, though Wild Turkey sounds more appropriate), 2 ounces of fresh orange juice, 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of sugar; strain into a tall glass with fresh ice, rub the rim of the glass with the lemon wedge (you can also rim the glass with sugar margarita-style), then garnish with an orange slice to whet your appetite and mellow your mood at the same time.
Joshua E. London writes a weekly syndicated wine and spirits column. For more reviews, see grapelines.com.