By Anna Harwood
The Rosh Hashanah meal is a festive affair. Traditions abound as to how the evening meal can bring good tidings for the year ahead. While some stick to apple and honey for a sweet new year, others recite a full array of blessings over different symbolic food types–from increasing in numbers like the seeds of a pomegranate to hopes of being the head, not the tail, akin to the lamb’s head that adorns the table. When reflecting on wishes for the upcoming season, one Rosh Hashanah tradition that continues throughout the year is that of the HaTov v’HaMeitiv blessing, recited when switching from one style of wine to another.
As wine flows throughout the night, there is a custom to celebrate the abundance of this joyful beverage which symbolizes wealth, happiness, and success. In addition to its centrality for sacramental purposes, in ancient Israel wine was cleaner and tastier than water, and it continues to be a focal element of Jewish culture. Given wine’s special power to “gladden the heart” and the uniqueness of each wine varietal, the sages instituted a blessing that is said when moving between different types of wine. As opposed to regular blessings, which, once recited, “cover” all similar food types, adding this special blessing kept people aware of the risk of mindlessly drinking intoxicating wine and proclaimed gratitude for the abundance of this most sought-after beverage.
The blessing praising Him who “is good and bestows good” (HaTov v’HaMeitiv) is most commonly recited when switching between a white and a red wine, but it can be said when partaking in a wine of a different varietal, quality, or style. It is said only when the second (or third, fourth, or fifth) wine is of equal or better quality and when the wine is being drunk in company. The sages were clear that drinking alone could lead to sin or impropriety and that only when one is in the company of others could true joy be experienced; thus the blessing is said when two or more are present.
Celebrating the good and enjoying superior-quality wines are wonderful ways to enhance the Rosh Hashanah table and raise the spirits of all the celebrants. During a festival when people try to increase their “blessings,” adding many different wines provides the opportunity to keep proclaiming HaTov v’HaMeitiv. In time for the festive season, there are a number of high-quality Israeli wines that are hitting the shelves, yielding the chance to keep blessing good (and better) offerings.
From white to red. The Galil Viognier is a pleasant change from the more traditional white-grape varieties. The Viognier is a challenging wine to perfect, but the Galil Mountain Winery, on the border of northern Israel, produces a flawlessly dry, yet extremely fruity and floral offering. Move from this more unusual white to an ever-loved red, the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon. Produced by the Golan Heights Winery, this classic red wine is a treat for any Cabernet fan. Full-bodied and with an exquisite finish, the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits blackcurrant and cherry notes rounded out by earthy, spicy, and oaky characters. While it is eminently drinkable upon purchase, recently wine experts in Israel have been opening decade-old bottles and have been surprised by its aging potential.
Novel blends: From fruity to complex. The Mount Hermon Indigo, named for its signature indigo color provided by a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, set new standards for affordable kosher wine when it was released last year. Now in its second vintage, it is a medium-bodied, fruity wine combining a deep plum flavor with hints of herb and a subtle smokiness. Move from the Mount Hermon Indigo to the Yarden 2T for a richer and fuller-bodied blended red wine. The Yarden 2T, like the Mount Hermon Indigo, shows off plum and cherry characters, but this blend of two Portuguese grapes has been aged for 18 months in French-oak barrels. The lengthy aging period enables the wine’s deep flavors to flourish and produces a richer, blackberry flavor coupled with Mediterranean spice and deep chocolate notes. The Yarden 2T stole the show this year at the Citadelles du Vin, France’s biggest wine award, and raises the bar when looking for wine to top that which has been previously tasted.
Whites: From young to aged. Moving from a fresh wine to a richer and aged wine normally implies moving from a white to a red wine, but it is possible to do the switch with two white wines. The Gilgal Riesling resembles the traditional Rieslings emanating from the Alsace and Germany regions. The Gilgal Riesling showcases the Riesling’s familiarly high acidity balanced with tropical and fruity aromas. It is a young and easy-to-drink wine that underwent a short, cold fermentation and makes a great accompaniment to the first course of your Rosh Hashanah meal. Move from this easy-to-drink white to a richer, barrel-aged Chardonnay such as the Yarden Odem Chardonnay. Produced entirely from grapes grown in the Odem organic vineyard on the slopes of the Golan Heights, this delicious, aged Chardonnay combines a melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor with aromatic pear, quince, apple, and tropical notes. The Yarden Odem Chardonnay is aged sur lie for seven months in French-oak barrels, giving it a rich and full body and one which will improve for a number of years to come.
When saying the HaTov v’HaMeitiv blessing, it is preferable to have the previous wine still open and remaining. This Rosh Hashanah, keep the wine flowing all evening and toast l’chaim to a “good and better” year ahead!
By Anna Harwood