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The Joy of the Four Cups

March 25, 2010 By:
Gary Landsman, Jewish Exponent Feature
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The Passover seder -- the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt -- is a ritual practiced by Jews across the globe. We gather with friends and loved ones recounting the miracles through story, song, food and, of course, wine -- so much wine in fact that more than 50 percent of the year's kosher wine sales occurs prior to Passover, in large part due to the mandate to drink those four cups. For the most observant, these four cups are dry (not sweet) red wine, each cup measuring almost 3 or as many as 6 ounces, and must be fully consumed.

Should you drink grape juice or wine? Red or white? Sparkling or still? From Israel, California, France or Italy? Inexpensive or top of the line? Perhaps a glass of each? We know about the seder's four questions, but who thought simply figuring out which wine to drink for the four cups could present so many questions.

Let's strategically walk through the seder's drinking portion. The guests have finally arrived, everyone is seated around the table, and you are hungry. But if you are at a traditional seder, it might be a long time before you get a taste of those tantalizing dishes, with their aromas wafting from the kitchen. On an empty stomach, downing a glass of wine with 14 percent alcohol would be a mistake. A wine with around a 5 percent alcohol content is a better choice. Remember: The night is a marathon, not a sprint.

Your first glass freshly emptied, it's time to refill. You feel good, but you should hold off on the big Cabernet Sauvignon. Save that trophy wine for later. Here is a great opportunity to try a light-bodied varietal with balancing acidity that can complement the maror and charoset flavors that will soon grace your palate.

The next time you fill your cup might be for the third cup of wine or it might be for a wine to accompany the festive meal, which will (finally) be commencing. Now is the time to pop the cork on that special full-bodied red or white you have been looking forward to since your arrival. You may instead consider a red wine for pairing with your meat, such as a Merlot or a Shiraz.

Having finished the heavy meal and three previous cups of wine, you may have some trouble contemplating your last cup. Therefore, I have devised an overstuffed and inebriated-proof strategy with the last step repeating the first.

Low alcohol, light and tasty.

The Passover seder and its accompanying wines present many questions. And while I cannot presume to tell you why this night is different from all others, following the aforementioned guidelines will ensure that "what wine should I be drinking" is not a question that you will utter this holiday season.

Passover 2010/5770

Below are some new releases from Spain, Chile, New Zealand, Israel and California.

· Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (New Zealand) -- This crisp and gorgeously aromatic wine shows hints of grapefruit, tangerine and quince. Rich tropical flavors, spearheaded by tangy gooseberry, commingle with undertones of melon. The clay loam soil provides this wine with a crisp texture and a flourish of fresh spices on the long finish.

· Elvi Clásico 2008 (Spain) -- This mevushal (flash-pasteurized) Spanish gem is sourced out of the popular Ribera Del Jucar Appellation. This wine combines a unique fusion of Tempranillo, and Merlot grape varietals, shows a strong Mediterranean character. This medium-bodied wine with juicy acidity and bright raspberry fruit has silky tannins, delivering a fruity, easy drinking, crowd-pleasing wine. Subtle notes of dusty earth, dry herbs and leather add to its pleasantly surprising complexity.

· Carmel PC Merlot 2007(Israel) -- This Merlot from Carmel's popular "Private Collection" series has arrived for Passover with a new look. Sourced from grapes in the Galilee Appellation, this medium-bodied wine opens with a deep garnet color and fruit-forward aroma. With its berry and spice flavors, it boasts a smooth taste with a hint of fruity sweetness and fresh tartness. The PC Merlot pairs well with grilled/broiled chicken or fish.

· Psagot Edom 2007 (Israel) -- A blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Merlot, this full-bodied wine is aged for 14 months in American and French oak barrels housed in a Judean Hills winery cave dating back to the era of the second Temple. A Terravino Gold Medal winner, "Edom" has rich piquant vanilla notes combined with berries, black currants and oriental spice. Flavors of cherry and currant abound, underscored by silky tannins and an appealing hint of freshly turned earth. It all comes together to shape a robust wine with a complex character.

· Barkan Classic Pinot Noir 2009 (Israel) -- This popular value wine made from grapes picked in the Southern Negev Desert region of Israel displays aromas of bright cherry, strawberry and a subtle hint of mint. This medium-bodied wine shows true varietal character, with bright freshness and soft tannins that lead to a long, crisp and sumptuous finish.

· Baron Herzog Jeunesse Chardonnay 2009 (California) -- A brand new arrival from Baron Herzog's Jeunesse line, this moderately priced Chardonnay is an off-dry wine-lover's guilty pleasure. This straw, semi-dry wine emits intense floral aromas followed by distinct notes of fresh peach, pear and citrus, with hints of toasty vanilla oak. Soft in texture, this balanced wine is crisp and refreshing on the finish. It's an excellent pairing for lighter fare, such as salads or spicy Asian dishes.

· Alfasi Reserve Malbec Syrah 2009 (Chile) -- A dry red wine artfully blended in equal parts Malbec and Syrah. Hailing from Chile's Maule Valley, this reserve wine shows rich plum and raisin notes, intermingled with hints of vanilla and coffee. The wine is best described as medium- to full-bodied with gentle mouth-coating tannins and a light touch of vanilla-rich wood. On the nose and palate black cherry, damson plums and lightly candied orange peel fuse nicely, complemented by notes of white chocolate and espresso coffee. It leaves a long and rich effect, with a hint of dried raisins on the finish.

· Baron Herzog Old Vine Red Zin 2007 (California) -- A red wine sourced from grapes grown in the 65-year old Watts sustainable vineyard in Lodi, California. Aromas of black cherry, raspberry, tea and plum combine gracefully with light spice and oak tones. Cherry and plum flavors, and velvety soft tannins, melt together, providing a mouth feel that tickles the palate. This longtime favorite has good structure and is rich in character.

· Weinstock "Cellar Select" Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (California) -- From Napa Valley, Weinstock presents a "Cellar Select" fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon bursting with nuances of oak, and displaying notes of plum, rose and cranberry. This dry red Californian possesses mouth-filling medium tannins that course through a full body, exuding a blend of rich blackberry and anise flavors. It pairs equally well with grilled lamb, beef, halibut or even pasta with red sauce.

· Capcanes Peraj Petita 2007 (Spain) -- From a winery with a rich, 100-plus-year-old history comes the latest vintage of a popular red out of Montsant, Spain. This is a clear ruby wine with flecks of violet and fresh, seductive aromas of red berries and cherry. Strong old-vine Grenache character provides loads of red fruits in a wine that is crisp and ripe, juicy and fresh. Concentrated and well-balanced, the mostly stainless-steel tank-aged "Petita" has soft tannins that are food-friendly and lead to a seductive finish.

Gary Landsman of Royal Wine Marketing contributed this piece. Communications director Martin Davidson compiled the list.

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