Thursday, September 12, 2013 | return to: holidays


High holy days |  Pair bubbly, whisky and wine with break-the-fast menus

by joshua e. london & lou marmon, special to j.

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Every family has its own traditions when it comes time to break the fast.

Usually a milchig (dairy) or parve (neutral) meal, the dishes might range from one relative’s treasured lokshen kugel (egg noodle pudding) to another’s prized blintzes, from a table laden with various appetizers of fish (pickled herring, white fish salad, lox, etc.) to one filled with cream cheese and bagels.

Desserts, or at least sweet foods (honey or jams), typically are plentiful — serving as a reminder and ardent wish for a sweet new year. Also common are eggs, to represent the cycle of life.

Ernie Weir of Napa Valley’s Hagafen Cellars
Ernie Weir of Napa Valley’s Hagafen Cellars
Delicious and nostalgic, yes, but this is essentially breakfast fare — menus not exactly screaming for wine.

So what wine goes best with breakfast foods? Well, the fabled choice of the fabulously wealthy seems appropriate.

We mean, of course, Champagne, or at least a quality sparkling wine. The mere presence of natural bubbles always makes it seem so deliciously decadent. (Note: wine spritzers definitely will not have the same effect.)

A delicious sparkling option is available from Napa’s Hagafen Cellars. The excellent Hagafen cuvée de noirs 2007 ($36) is an orange-hued beauty made from an 80/20 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The wine’s strawberry, peach and raspberry flavors dance lightly on a citrus frame, with hints of melon and white chocolate. This should work well with smoked fish and will play off the creaminess of cheese and eggs.

Another option is the equally dry but more fruit-driven Hagafen riesling 2012 ($24). Its acidity does an even better job than the cuvée de noirs at cutting through the oiliness of fish. This bright, well-balanced dry riesling opens with green apple and citrus aromas, leading into lingering peach, grapefruit and lime flavors. Versatile and food-friendly, it is a great choice to pair with the customary foods that end Yom Kippur; any leftover bottles can be served later with spicy Middle Eastern cuisines.

Ernie Weir and his wife, Irit, founded Hagafen in 1979, and their wines have been served at the White House on many occasions. As a testament to the high quality of the production, much of it is sold to and consumed by non-Jews. The family-owned and -operated winery is located on the Silverado Trail and boasts a popular tasting room.

If your preference is spirits, a little whisky may be in order at your break-the-fast meal. We heartily recommend the Bunnahabhain Toiteach single-malt scotch whisky from Scotland.

Established in 1881, Bunnahabhain (pronounced “’boon-a-havn”) is located in the northern part of Islay, the famous whisky-producing island off Scotland’s west coast. Indeed, it is the most remote of all the distilleries on the island. Most of its production has gone to blends, rather than single-malt releases, but the brand has been revitalized since 2003 when it was acquired by Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd.

Bunnahabhain is considered one of the milder single-malt Islay whiskies available, as it traditionally uses very little peat smoke in the malting of its barley. Burn Stewart decided to try something different when it introduced the Bunnahabhain Toiteach (“toiteach” means “smoky” in Scots Gaelic).

According to the company website, this whisky “answers the question ‘What if a touch of smoke from our peated malted barley was introduced in the distillation process?’” The answer, thankfully, is both interesting and delicious.

Bunnahabhain Toiteach offers a lovely billow of powerful yet gentle peat smoke along with aromas and flavors of burnt toffee, caramel, honey, sweet malted barley, saltwater, raisins, dried apricots and a smidgen of cracked black pepper. The finish is long and complex.

The first taste is good, the second is even more rewarding, and the third is … well, simply delicious. This is indeed a lovely and happy answer to the question of Bunnahabhain and peat. L’chaim!


Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon write a syndicated wine and spirits column. For more reviews, see



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