Hanukkah is one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays, and it’s easy to see why. It last eight nights, is typically celebrated with large gatherings of friends and family, has a variety of yummy traditional foods, cuts across the Jewish denominational spectrum and is a fine excuse for entertaining.
What’s a festive Jewish gathering without too much food? “And not only food,” as a vintage Woody Allen bit has it, “frequently there must be a beverage.”
Indeed, all festive meals are improved by a little social lubrication with choice wines and spirits. As I’ve argued many times before, wine and food pairing is (to a great extent) a personal and individual matter. When it comes to pairing wines with your Hanukkah or other meals, there is no “perfect” pairing (although I will say that the sparkling wines below go especially well with latkes and other fried foods).
The goal of pairing wine with food is balance; neither the food nor the wine should overpower each other and each component should, by and large, complement the other. General rules of thumb — lighter foods with lighter wines, richer foods with richer, full-bodied wines — can be useful, but should not be thought of as absolute.
The only wine rule I consider inviolable is this: Do not run out of wine.
When planning a feast, I estimate roughly one bottle per drinking guest (about six glasses). I know there are still plenty of American Jews who think this suggestion patently absurd. Indeed, I gather that there is still some number of American Jewish homes in which a single, solitary bottle of wine is expected to last for several meals (they have my abiding sympathy). Obviously, one should know thy audience, and plan accordingly.
Consider, however, that it is arguably much better to have leftover, open bottles of wine than to run out entirely and leave a guest “dry”, or made to feel uncomfortably thirsty for more wine.
As to selecting wines, be generous and think in terms of the overall menu and crowd, not just specific dishes. Experiment liberally in advance. When in doubt, provide guests with multiple options.
Here are some lovely wines to consider — and four come from the Bay Area: Covenant Winery (the kosher winemaker in Berkeley), along with Camuna Cellars and Hajdu, both new projects by people who work at Covenant, as well as a sparkling wine from Hagafen. L’Chaim!
Château Guiraud, Le G de Guiraud, (kosher edition) Bordeaux Blanc Sec, 2017 ($37): A 50/50 blend of organic certified sémillon and sauvignon blanc, this is medium-bodied, intense, bone dry and fabulously balanced with terrific tension from the vibrant acidity.
Abarbanel, Lemminade, Gewürztraminer, Vin D’alsace, Old-Vine, 2015 ($23): This is a beautiful, bright, vibrant, somewhat rounded yet refreshing and very slightly sweet Gewurtz with tingly acidity and wonderful aromas. Serve slightly chilled.
Pacifica, Evan’s Collection, Riesling, Washington, 2017 ($19.99): This is fun, easy drinking, tasty, off-dry yet crisp, with a nice pleasing hint of residual sugar, enjoyable lush citrus fruits and earthy mineral notes and great balancing acidity.
Vignobles David, Le Mourre de l’Isle, Blanc, Côtes du Rhône, 2017 ($16-19): This dry, light-bodied, balanced, floral and crisp offering is a refreshing blend of 40 percent Roussanne, 30 percent Viognier and 30 percent Grenache. Not to be missed.
Cantina Giuliano, Vermentino, Costa Toscano i.g.t., Tuscany, 2017 ($19; non-mevushal): This is crisp, fresh and refreshing, and really lovely with flavors of white peach, under-ripe apricot, citrus, guava and perhaps a little under-ripe pineapple.
Shirah, Bro Deux, Vin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, 2017 ($25): This fabulous, flinty, floral, grassy and green sauvignon blanc offers lovely notes of passion fruit, lime, stone fruits and freshly cut grass.
Vignobles David, Le Mourre de l’Isle, Rosé, Côtes du Rhône, 2017 ($16-19): This is a dry, refreshing and altogether lovely blend of 80 percent grenache and 20 percent syrah.
Camuna Cellars, Barbera Rosé, Clarksburg, 2017 ($20): With wonderful balance, sporting clean, vibrant, dry and tart fruit notes of strawberry, cherry and under-ripe pear, this is fun and interesting, with an earthy, minerally quality. Available from the new Berkeley winemaker exclusively at camunacellars.com.
Covenant Winery, Mensch, Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016 ($20; mevushal; available online directly from the winery with limited retail distribution): This budget-priced, value-driven wine from the consistently great Covenant Winery in Berkeley is rich, yet softly textured and fruit forward. It is practically bursting with clean and lovely black cherry, raspberry and boysenberry. It also has notes of cocoa and hints of rosemary and black licorice on the finish. Very tasty.
Alexeli Vineyard, Pinot Noir (kosher), Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010 ($24): Light, breezy and tasty, yet with enough depth to hold more serious attention. It offers pleasing aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry and pomegranate. Available exclusively at alexeli.com.
Uva, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Limited Edition, 2014 ($27.99): This is clean, fresh, tasty and alluring, with tart cherries, freshly crushed blackberries, purple plums, tobacco leaf, a decent earthiness, a smidge of licorice and hints of savory herbs.
Kishor Vineyard, Kishor, GSM, 2016 ($28): This is a delicious, light-to-medium bodied Israeli blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, exhibiting a rich and herbal bouquet of wild dark fruits and a lovely, clean palate of cherry, raspberry, black currant, a little spice and dollops of dark chocolate.
Hajdu, Sangiovese Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino, 2016 ($50): Concentrated ruby red with a bouquet of fresh, still ripening plums, near perfect rainier cherries, and with a little herb and spice, leading through to savory flavors of sour cherry, some prunes, tobacco, dried oregano, some lovely white to black pepper notes, and hints of herbs de Provence. With lovely structure, bright acidity and ever-present yet soft and smooth tannins, this is a complex yet wonderfully quaffable beauty that hungers tasty food. It’ll reward some near to mid-term cellaring. An awesome example of the organic, high elevation, Eaglepoint Ranch vineyard in Ukiah by the associate winemaker at Covenant. Very yummy!
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden Rose, Brut, 2012 ($40): This lightly pinkish delightful, festive, delicious and energizing bubbly offers aromas of citrus, strawberries, stone fruits and brioche, all draped in flowers.
Hagafen, Brut Cuvée, Napa Valley, 2015 ($48; mevushal): A delightful blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, this is a lovely, refreshing and simply delicious bubbly .
De La Rosa, Ur Kasdim, Sweet White Sparkling Muscat Ottonel, 2016 ($28; mevushal; organic): This fun, supple, enjoyable, frizzante-style sparkler is made from late-harvest muscat ottonel.