A quick bit of Jewish 101. Tomorrow night is a Jew’s big night. There will be a great feast. Apples and honey will grace every table. The big meal will be followed by much sweet indulgence. Rosh Hashanah is marked on the Jewish calendar by the first day of Tishrei, meaning the “head of the year.” This new calendar year beginning is referred to as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, a time to make sincere resolutions for the future. Jews will say, L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem, “may you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal, where symbolic pleasantries are shared, exchanged and not surprisingly, Jews make use of food and drink to exercise the festivities.
When it comes to yayin (wine), Shekar, or “strong drink” is not necessarily the obvious, fermented choice. Last November I wrote a rant on the jumboism rampant in so many current wines on the market. “Biblical thought says there was a time when “wine” was simply the juice of pressed fruit, non-fermented, void of alcohol, the “pureblood of the grape.” The post-deluge patriarch (Noah) purportedly discovered that if you let natural yeasts run wild they would turn grape juice and sugar into mocker, “strong drink.” Researches say that ancient barm barely peaked at 12 per cent alcohol by volume.”
Like a pair of brothers in heated debate over ”integrity versus compromise,” choosing wine for the High Holidays is fraught and fought with philosophical and religious intensity. Kosher or conventional? Traditional or modern? Low alcohol or high-octane? Many Jewish tables will be set with Kosher (not Meshuval or, Kosher for Passover) wine. Many will not. For many modern Jews, on holidays not called Passover, Kosher is not a prerequisite when it come to choosing wine. Jews, in general, will daven to that 12 percent abv mark, give or take a percent. When talking wine, the Jew should never be labelled a Mundus Novian. Keep in mind that with all that food going down, heavy-handed winemaking has no place at the Rosh Hashanah banquet.
Then there is the etymology of the expression L’Chaim. At one point the condemned were given wine so that their execution would be less painful. The phrase “to life” was coined to express a sentiment to the contrary. Here are five excellent, low-alcohol wines to look for thisRosh Hashanah, to raise a glass to the new year, to exclaim L’Chaim!
Ca’Del Baio, Moscato D’Asti 2012 (Stem Wine Group, $18.99) is so low in alcohol (five per cent) you might think you are drinking cider but fermented apples could never achieve such complexity with such incredibly economical syntactic structure. Slightly sweet and also sparkling, this Moscato makes itself readily accessible to new wine drinkers. I may not be one but how can I not be tempted by its forbidden stone fruits. I’ll drink it with the sups at the RH table. Moscato 101 indeed. On the card at Barque. 90
The food match: Halibut, pan roasted, charred sweet pepper jam, steamed broccoli & heirloom carrots
13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (147512, $19.95) from Niagara’s Creek Shores and built of the classic Alsatian Clone 49 inordinately defines place and time in an agglomerated manner. Maximum floral intensity, zero petrol tolerance and an arid accumulation speak volumes about the appellation. To taste you will note it just barely believes it’s off-dry. Unique and unambiguous, plosive Riesling. 89
The food match: Quinoa Salad, summer corn, peas, cilantro, lime chili vinaigrette
Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2011 (329995, $24.95, SAQ, 2010,11589658, $24.95) marks a return to memories of old vines Brocard I’ve loved before. “The winds of change continue blowing,” so Chablis is sometimes not what it used to be. This VV is not quite steely but is structured like a good old country ode, with all the correct components. Just a kiss of all things Chablis. Rock, flint, sapid ardor and a racy, new slang, tang thang. As good as it gets from something other than Grand or Premier Cru. 89
The food match: Salmon with tomato & preserved lemon salsa, sautéed baby kale, lemon zest, crushed almonds
Château Hyot 2010 (63537, $16.95) from 70 percent Merlot, 20 Cabernet Franc and 10 Cabernet Sauvignon goes properly and structurally sound into the Côtes de Castillon night. Forty year-old vines capitulate ripe red fruit, tangy accents, zest and just enough bite to keep it lengthy and fresh. A farmer’s Bordeaux, natural in feel, oxygenated low and slow, micro-managed. Solid if prosaic. Kudos to winemaker Amélie Aubert for reigning in the overripe and over extracted tendencies of consultant Michel Rolland. 88
The food match: Smoked Beef Brisket, bbq Jus, rice pilaf, wild and basmati rice, bok choy and ginger
Domaine De La Garodière Morgon 2011 (330126, $17.60, SAQ, 10368204, $18.60) is rich modern Beaujolais but also tight and bound by enough sour acidity to balance the ripe extraction. Hard to believe this clocks in at only 12.5 percent abv. Rock solid Gamay, ready for a fight. Vinous compost with some southern French style Medi-savoury, black olive garrigue. Complex and fortifying. 91
The food match: Duo of Beef: NY Striploin & Braised Beef Cheek, smoked kishka
Good to go!