Uncorking the Secrets to Holiday Wine Selections

Dave Gordon

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, it won’t be long before we gather around the dinner table with our families to enjoy holiday foods and drinks. Choosing the right drinks, however, can sometimes be a challenge. For many, walking into a kosher wine store and selecting a wine from among the hundreds of varieties available is an overwhelming experience. As Abe Safdieh from the Wine Barrel explains, the selection of kosher wines has expanded dramatically in recent years and offers a variety that was unheard of even just a decade ago.

And so to help you prepare for the holiday season, we spoke with Gary Landsman, Director of Marketing at Royal Wine Corp and Kedem, and asked him to uncork for us the secrets to selecting the right vintage for the occasion.

Mr. Landsman’s foray into the world of wines began several years ago. After a brief stint in the restaurant business, he fell in love with wine. As he retells it, he “picked up and went to Israel,” where he worked for about five months at a winery and in the vineyards for a harvest season. He then returned to the US and made his way to Napa Valley in Northern California, where he worked in the lab of a large winery for another five months, before heading back to New York. He began writing about wine and consulting for several bars and restaurants, and ultimately ventured into selling Israeli wines before landing a permanent position at Royal Wine Corp.

The Gift of Wine

If you’re not hosting your own meal, but arriving as a guest at someone else’s table, a nice bottle of wine is a classic gift. Landsman points out that there are many wines available that can not only show off your good taste, but also come already packed in a gift box. “These are most popular leading up to Hanukah due to the holiday and gift-giving season, but some products are available in boxes or special packaging all year round,” says Landsman.

“Binyamina Winery does a very nice job here with their Reserve Late Harvest Gewutztraminer, a dessert wine that is sweet – great for Rosh Hashanah – and comes packed in a classy black box. Also in the nice black box are the Binyamina premium level Choshen wines.” He added that some kosher wine stores offer giftwrapping for any wine upon request, which adds a nice touch.

For those intrigued by the exotic, Landsman explains that country of origin or region “plays a large role within the wine universe.” While for some, the preference is based on sentimental value – many idealists like to buy wines from a certain country, such as Israel – Landsman says that “region plays a critical role in flavor.” That is, some countries have different grape growth and climate, resulting in differing tastes of wine.

Just in Time for the Holidays

Though the grape harvest generally occurs from August through October, wines are released periodically throughout the year. The time when a wine is released depends on several factors, including the number of weeks or months it spends aging in a barrel. Landsman says that this year, many new wines will be hitting the shelves around Rosh Hashanah time, perhaps offering additional significance to the “she’hehiyanu,” blessing that is emblematic of the season. He recommends some new releases from Elvi, originating Spain: the white Invita blend “that is crisp and refreshing with a hint of sweetness,” and the new Cava, which he calls “Spain’s version of Champagne.” Harkham, an Australian winery, has added to their Shiraz with a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend.

Two Israeli boutique wineries are also set to release new wines: from Tulip Winery the “Just Cabernet” and “Just Merlot,” and from the Flam family winery, the Reserve Syrah, of which Landsman speaks very highly.

The type of course that will be served is also an important factor in choosing the right wine. “Festive meals call for wines that can accompany the food,” Landsman says. “If you are having dinner with roasted chicken, meat, or other full-flavored dishes, you can go for a bigger red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon – Herzog’s Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Binyamina’s Reserve Shiraz are excellent examples of these.” For daytime meals, he explains, it might be preferable to “try something lighter such as a Sauvignon Blanc. Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which is a crisp and refreshing white is an ideal selection, or for a lighter red wine the Pacifica Pinot Noir is delightful.”

Wine is something that should be easy and enjoyable, not a big mystery with intimidation, Landsman contends.  “The more you taste the more you will become familiar with your likes and dislikes. And while wine can be fun to sip on its own, it is really complete when it is part of a meal. The food tastes better, and the wine tastes better.”

So here’s wishing you l’haim, and may your inscription for life in the year 5773 be as sweet and pleasant as the wine is to your palate.