As we walked with Ernie through the vineyards, we sampled purple-black Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were sweeter than any I've ever tasted. We nibbled on raisins – just plucked from the vine – that would make any noodle kugel shine.
Ernie explained his growing methods and what, indeed, makes a wine kosher. Intellectually, I know that there are good kosher wines out there, but until I actually taste them, I'm always a little suspicious of the wine being just a slight departure from sacramental sweet wines that I've been so accustomed to drinking.
Hagafen wines have been gold-medal winners in many competitions and even been served in the White House, which should immediately dispel any preset negative notions about kosher wines.
Ernie then led us to the wine-making room, where, on cue, a truckload of grapes was being emptied. Just outside, two Shomer Shabbos bearded men were watching, as is prescribed for a kosher wine. We tasted several stages of a wine in progress, then proceeded to a table laden with delicious Middle Eastern-style noshes, a variety of pita bread and a lovely bubbly – Hagafen Brut Cuvée awaited us.
Irit took a break from lunch preparation to toast with us, and we bombarded her with recipe requests. Born in Israel to Persian parents, Irit's cuisine deliciously reflects her heritage.
A sit-down lunch began with a refreshing, citrusy-seasonal salad and met the matching wine challenge with a 2004 Napa Valley Estate Pinot Noir. The Weir daughters Maya, 15, and Tamar, 6 (son Yoni was off doing his own thing) helped serve our next course of grilled salmon and a Persian specialty, rice "tadeek." A 2001 Napa Valley Syrah flawlessly broke the "white wine with fish" rule.
We were warned to save room for dessert, so it was no surprise to be presented with a saffron-scented, creamy, pistachio ice-cream and almond-cookie duet. And just when we thought it couldn't get better than this, Ernie poured an off-dry White Riesling, making it a sweet grand finale to the day.
You can visit virtually at: www.hagafen.com.
Persian Rice With 'Tadeek'
"Tadeek" is the Persian word for the crunchy layer of rice that forms on the bottom of the pan. It tastes fantastic!
2 quarts water
2 Tbsps. salt
11/2 cups basmati rice
3 Tbsps. unsalted butter
Bring water with salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and boil 10 minutes.
In a colander, drain rice and rinse under warm water.
Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart nonstick saucepan.
Spoon rice over butter and cover pan with a kitchen towel and a heavy lid. Fold edges of towel up over lid and cook rice over moderately low heat until tender and a crust forms on bottom, 30 to 35 minutes.
Spoon loose rice onto a platter and dip bottom of pan in a large bowl of cold water 30 seconds to loosen tadeek.
Remove the "tadeek." Serve over rice.
Serves 4 to 6.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. soy sauce
6 cups mixed greens
1 cup toy box tomatoes
1 small red onion, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 beets, roasted, peeled and diced
2 Asian pears, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup glazed walnuts
Whisk dressing ingredients until well-blended.
Toss with remaining ingredients.
Cilantro and Roasted-Pecan Spread
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup roasted pecans
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño, seeded
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. tahini paste
salt and pepper to taste
toasted pita triangles
Combine all ingredients except the pita in a food processor until well-blended.
Serve with pita triangles.
Makes 2 cups.
2 yolks, beaten
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1?2 cup corn oil
13?4 cups flour sifted with 1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbsp. rose water
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting
1/2 cup ground or chopped pistachios for garnish
To Make Dough: Beat yolks until creamy. Add yogurt and oil and mix well.
Gradually blend in flour.
Knead well to produce a dough that does not stick to your hands. Add more flour, if necessary. Place dough in plastic bag and refrigerate 3 hours.
To Prepare Filling: Mix almonds and sugar together.
Toast this mixture in a skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add cardamom and rose water. Mix well and set aside
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a ungreased cookie sheet with parchment paper.
On a floured board, roll dough out very thin. Cut dough into 2-inch circles.
Fill each circle with one-half teaspoon of filling. Fold to make half circles and using a fork, crimp edges to enclose filling.
Place on cookie sheet and bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove cookies and place on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and pistachios.
Makes about 3 dozen.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.