Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Things My Shaliach Never Told Me

Like most American Orthodox Jews, I've always preferred sweet wines to dry ones. Whenever I brought wine to a Shabbat meal, I'd pick Moscato D'Asti or something similar, some light, fruity wine that made everyone say "Ah, fruit juice with some alcohol in it!" And when I'm the host, the kiddush wine is always sweet.

Aye, there's the rub. When I get invited out --which, thank goodness, is often-- I have no control over the type of wine used for kiddush. And so, almost invariably, I'd end up taking my requisite sip of something dry, my lips would pucker, and I'd politely refuse any offers to drink more.

It's not a nice thing to happen every Shabbat, to have to drink something that makes your mouth pucker. So a couple of weeks ago, when I went to Beth's house for Shabbat, I borrowed their copy of Wine For Dummies. I figured that as long as I had to drink something vile every week, I should at least be able to describe in words the nature of the vileness. And besides, this way I'd have a language for figuring out which dry wines were worse than others.

A few days later, I was walking down Emek Refaim street, and one of the wine shops was having a tasting on the street of two Recanti Reserve wines: A merlot and a cabernet sauvignon. Yes, I now knew the difference between those two things! Here was an opportunity to try two different wine varieties, for free, at the same time, so I could compare the taste (and maybe put into intelligent words which I hated more). I was able to do this because the wines were kosher. The lady took out two wine glasses (real glasses - what kosher shop in the States would bother?) and poured me a quarter glass of merlot and a quarter glass of the cabernet sauvignon.

I held the glasses up to look at the color. I swirled. I sniffed. I sipped, gazing into the distance so I could concentrate on the tastes and the feeling of the wines in my mouth. I determined that I did not like either one, but I liked the cabernet sauvignon better because it was lighter (yes, that means something to me now!) and because the merlot had some sort of chocolate or tobacco tones that I didn't like (that part might be hot air).

Later, I went into my local supermarket, which carries an entire aisle of kosher wines, and determined two things:
1) I could purchase the same Recanti wines that I'd just tasted in the supermarket, if I'd wanted to, for about 15 shekels less per bottle than in the wine shop.
2) Israeli winemakers seem to be really into merlots, sauvignon blancs, and cabernet sauvignons. I hardly saw anything else. But maybe that's just the selection at this store.

Over Rosh Hashanah, I made a point of dwelling over the various wines served to me. It really is more fun to drink something dry if at least you are educated about it! I had great fun with it.

On Friday night came the big moment. Before the holiday, my paper had given me a beautiful gift basket, which came with a bottle of a Binyamina mixture of merlot and cabernet sauvignon from 2003. (How many secular publications in America would give a Rosh Hashanah basket to all employees, containing kosher wine and sweets?) I brought it to one of my hosts, someone who I had the feeling knew something about wines, who at first was tempted to save it for another year or two, but his wife convinced him to open it then. And I discovered that . . . it was good! I mean, it wasn't terrible! I could appreciate why this wine was better, at least to me, than the others I'd tasted!

So now I'm hooked on wine tasting, and live in a country where nice kosher wines are plentiful and easily attained. And, as even I knew, and as I knew even before making aliyah, Israeli winemaking has much improved in the last few years. Before reading Wine For Dummies, I'd given my cousin Meir a copy of the "2005 guide to Israeli wines" by Daniel Rogov. I might have to borrow that back. :-)

Anyhow, that's it. Gotta go get some work done.

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