As Passover and Easter re approaching and people are making plans for holiday and family dinners, decisions are being made on the menu, and naturally that includes the right wines.
Each tradition makes reference to wine, since the elixir goes back to biblical times, and it carries through until today.
Both traditions have their rituals, but it seems that Passover is a bit more specific, so I thought I’d start with that holiday. There are four cups of wine used in the Passover Seder to symbolize the four distinct redemptions promised by G-d to the Hebrews. Each cup symbolizes an action performed by G-d, and the tradition is such that Jews would fill a small glass with wine at four different times during the meal and drink each at the appropriate time.
Drinking from The Four Cups also symbolizes that you can actively free yourself from whatever enslaves you. There is a fifth cup of wine called “The Cup of Elijah” and it is reserved for Elijah the Prophet, who is believed to visit each Passover Seder that takes place around the world. The fifth cup of wine is also an expression of redemption for all in future times and because this has not occurred yet, it is not drunk.
I’ve only been to one Passover dinner in my life, and it was held in a converted church, owned and lived in by a Jewish motorcycle fabricator. Then on Easter Sunday my friend Alexander Evans, the host, took me for a ride on his custom Harley through a graveyard in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s not as cryptic as it sounds but actually quite beautiful.
Anyway, most of the people at this dinner had never attended a Passover Seder, and it was quite spectacular. We all sat in very Gothic chairs at a very long dining table, and Alex talked about each authentic course (including gefilte fish) and served some very good wine, and it was one of the most memorable of my life. Wine helps to make memories, but not as much as the people you drink it with.
Some reasonably priced, top recommended wines for Passover dinner are Carmel Wines Gewurztraminer LH Shaal 2006 at $25.99 per bottle, or Tzuba Chardonnay 2009 at $22.99. Other choices might include Dalton Reserve Viognier 2009 for $14.99, which is extremely affordable, or Joseph River Chardonnay 2009 at $10.99, which is even less expensive. It depends, once again, upon your palette.
Lee Riggs, proprietor of Vines Wine Bar in Parker, offers his recommendations. “If a family is observing Passover in the traditional means, then the only wines that are authorized are kosher wines. These are wines that have been produced under the strict guidance of rabbinical law and are labeled as kosher.” Interesting. Riggs also said, “Kosher wines are made around the world. One of the largest and most widely available here in the United States is Baron Herzog from California. There is also Goose Bay from New Zealand, Carmel from Israel, and even Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in Bordeaux France produces a kosher wine.”
For Easter, Riggs suggests something different. “If a family is having the traditional rack of lamb with mint or any other preparation of lamb, I suggest a nice supple Syrah. Syrah is a big and robust wine that has the power to stand up to the powerful flavors of lamb.” The meat does taste a bit gamey on its own. “A couple of my favorites are Landmark — Steel Plow, Sonoma County, 2007 or Yangarra — Cadenzia, McLaren Vale Australia, 2006. If you are serving beef look for a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec. Franciscan, Napa Valley or even their Magnificant (Bordeaux Blend) is a good match or try a local wine from Colorado with the Infinite Monkey Theorem Malbec. Some like to roast a ham for the Easter celebration so I recommend going with a Pinot Noir such as Wild Horse, Central Coast California, Pinot Noir or if you are looking for a white try a nice Riesling such as the Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling.”
The tradition of Easter is quite different than Passover, though to me anytime you have friends or family, mixed in with a little conflicted politics and alcohol, you pretty much get the same end result. Easter is the celebration of Jesus coming back to life on the third day after his crucifixion. Catholics normally give up something they are used to for 40 days, the period called Lent, to show their appreciation for Christ fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. Easter breaks that fast. Wine (at Catholic masses) is drunk or “received” as a symbol of the blood Christ shed for the sins of G-d’s children.
Obviously, we need to keep that tradition or giving up wine at Easter would be what? Sacrilege? Well, that’s what I’m sticking to.
Easter is the tradition I am used to, and one year I actually made a roast lamb and red potato dinner seasoned with rosemary and served with asparagus. Until then my parents didn’t know I could cook. I was 30-something at the time and thought it was time to reciprocate. Of course, I served dinner with red wine, probably a Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is the most typical wine served with lamb, and a good example would be Wenzel Kleiner Wald Pinot Noir 2004. Apparently this vintage has a hint of a mint on the finish. As you may know, mint chutney traditionally goes very well with lamb.
Not a chef myself, I turned to our helpful friends at Delizio’s Café and Wine Bar in Littleton for some ideas on which grape to serve with what dish. Bob Mickus, owner of Delizio’s, had some very specific ideas. He said, “When pairing a wine with food, you want to select a wine that will complement the food being served. One way to think about this (which comes from a lesson I learned on a wine tasting trip to Bordeaux ) is to envision the wine as being a sauce. (French cuisine epitomizes the use of sauces and this is how they often approach the selection of wine for a given meal).” If you’ve ever seen the film Julie and Julia, you would completely understand.
Mickus went on to say, “Using the example of eating baked ham for an Easter meal, a sauce (wine) that would likely be a nice complement to the ham would be one that is light and fruity, perhaps with a touch of honey. A nice wine that meets these criteria would be a slightly sweet Riesling. A recommendation would be Rudolph Muller Riesling (available at Delizio’s) from the Mosel Valley in Germany. The wine is slightly sweet with notes of honey suckle and pear, and would make a nice pairing with baked ham.” I also found that wine mentioned as one of the most popular of the season, so he must be right! And really, the best Rieslings are from Germany, where they originated, so this is good advice.
I also heard from Bill Endress, Wine Director at Caveau Wine Bar downtown. “Easter ham, being probably the mainstay of most Easter dinners, leaves itself open to many a deserving wine pairing. The meat itself is fairly light in flavor, making it easy to overpower. So among the easiest pairings would be lighter reds, or full bodied whites, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively. It would also depend upon how the ham is prepared, and what the sides are,” he offered.
Endress’ specific recommendations are: Whole grain Dijon mustard rubbed ham with a caramelized brown sugar glaze, topped with a spring berry chutney and paired with Benovia Winery’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Hungry yet? How about creamy potato gratin with Gruyere and white cheddar cheese paired with Arrowwood Vineyards’ Sonoma Chardonnay?
Whatever your preference for tradition or wine, make sure you choose well. It’s the stuff that memories are made from. And hopefully some embarrassing photos.