Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wines for a Passover Meal, 2017 edition

Last Thursday, Congregation B'nai Shalom co-hosted our second 'Wines for a Passover Meal' kosher for Passover wine tasting at Julio's liquor store, Westborough. Their wine manager, Toni DeLuca, had kindly invited me to help choose the line-up in advance again and, together, we made sure that everything served would be palatable. While there are plenty of excellent kosher wines to be had, there is also plenty of pretty awful stuff out on the market. And I did my fair share of spitting out some pretty unpleasant stuff before we arrived at our tasting list.

During the course of the evening, I provided a little history on the evolution of the Passover Seder ritual, and a quick reminder of what makes a wine kosher for Passover. You can read about the history of the Seder here. At the end of the evening, all presented voted on a limited selection to help me choose the wines we would serve at our Community Seder (April 11). If you are local to our area, you are invited to join us - advance reservations required by April 5th via our temple website.

We also talked a little bit about choosing wines to accompany different kinds of meals. In passing, I mentioned a Moroccan stew that I have made for several years for our home Seder which is rich, spiced but not spicy, and which cooks slowly for several hours on top of the stove, making it an easy choice to serve on a Passover evening if you are exactly sure when you'll arrive at the meal. Here is the recipe - I'm printing it here the way I originally received it, but over the years I have made this a beef stew instead of lamb, primarily due to the availability and price of kosher beef stewing meat over lamb. I think it works just as well with beef. I've also varied the exact combination of spices, depending on what I have had available. The stew can handle a lot of variants and still be delicious. A fuller-bodied red wine is recommended for this dish (my choice from this year's list is indicated further below).

Moroccan Lamb Stew (or beef) - serves 6

2 lbs lamb shoulder trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (or chuck beef steak, also cut into 1 inch squares)
Salt to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Garam masala
1/2 tsp Turmeric
black pepper to taste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves chopped
1/4 cut olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups low sodium beef stock
1 14oz can tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup blanched almonds lightly toasted.

Put the lamb or beef in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp pepper, garam masala, turmeric and thyme. Toss the lamb or beef with the spices. If time allows, transfer the meat to a resealable plastic food bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

In a large dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pot with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding, brown the meat on all sides, 5-7 mins per batch. As each batch gets browned, transfer it into a bowl.

Pour off the fat from the skillet and add the remaining oil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, carrot, celery and 1/2 tsp salt and saute until the onion is tender and has colored slightly - about 5 mins, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and scraping the skillet to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the garlic and rosemary and stir for 1 minute.

Stir in the wine, raise the heat to bring to a boil, scraping the bottom and sides to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the tomatoes with the juice, half of the apricots and prunes, the broth, and the meat and any accumulate juice back into the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 1 hr 15 mins or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick (I usually do it for closer to 2 hours with beef, on a low light). Season to taste with salt and pepper.  This next step I don't usually do... Transfer the meat to a platter and cover with foil. Using a hand blender, puree the sauce. Add the rest of the prunes and apricots and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently until the dried fruit is soft, about 15 mins. Serve, sprinkling with almonds.

I usually serve this stew with Quinoa. Not everyone regards Quinoa as Passover-appropriate. It is a seed and not a grain, but it does expand in water. Of course, Sephardic Jews eat rice on Passover anyway, so for many Jews this is not a restriction, but many Ashkenazi Jews still observe the tradition of avoiding any food that expands in water in this way that may have a grain-like appearance.

Kosher for Passover Wine Review of 2017
So, here are my 2017 reviews of the wines we tasted this year. If you local to our congregation, all of these are available, either in store or to order, from Julio's liquors. The prices below are usual prices. Our event offered a 15% discount on all of the wines.

Cantina Gabriele 2015 Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio. Regular price $12.99

This was a crisp, fruity Pinot Grigio with pleasant tones of apple, apricot and pear. A very pleasant wine that I'd be pleased with at any time of year. This is my recommendation for a white wine with fish or chicken.

La Fille du Boucher 'The Butcher's daughter' 2015 Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay. $11.99

Last year we enjoyed a lovely 2012 Bordeaux reserve from this producer. I was not personally a great fan of this Chardonnay. It had a sweetness that came through after the initial mouthful that I would not usually associate with Chardonnay and did not particularly appreciate.

Notte Italiana 2015 Prosecco
100% Glera  $14.99

This was a very enjoyable Prosecco. Not too dry but not at all sweet either. It had a light pear-like fruitiness to it. A fun way to start the Seder for the first cup of wine - that's how we intend to use it at our congregation's community Seder on April 11.

Louis de Sacy NV Grand Cru Kosher Mevushal Brut
60% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier.  $59.99

This is priced as an independent producer Champagne. The dry, apple peel fruits were pleasant but were accompanied by a yeasty, doughy taste that was too pronounced. Perhaps part of the impact of the flash pasteurization process to make this a mevushal wine, but not to my liking. A bit like having an apple pie that wasn't cooked through, leaving raw dough in the pie crust.

Luis Felipe Edwards 'Terra Vega' 2015 'Bin no 902' Malbec
100% Malbec $7.99

I found this a very pleasant pour. However, we tasted their Carmenere last year which was a big hit among our tasters, and I'd still put that one ahead of this year's Malbec. The Carmenere is still available, also at $7.99

O'Dwyer's Creek 2014 Limite Release Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir $29.99

A very pleasant New Zealand Pinot Noir. Very smooth and balanced. Not my top choice for my stew because I think it'll get a bit lost with the richer sauce and flavors of the stew, but would work well with brisket.

 La Citadelle de Diamant 2014 'Caesar' Red Blend
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Shiraz.  $29.99

This was my favorite red of the night. Full bodied, beautifully balanced blackcurrant and earthy tones. This was the Israeli selection of the evening and it is my pairing for the stew.

Louis Blanc 2014 Crozes-Hermitage
100% Syrah $27.99

This was also a hit with many of the tasters last Thursday. For me, personally, La Citadelle won out for the particular meal I'll be serving at my Seder, but this is a red that I would certainly enjoy for any occasion. A little softer in the mouth, with a little more plum and dark fruit jamminess than La Citadelle.

La Fille du Boucher 'The Butcher's Daughter' 2015 Muscat Premium
100% Muscat $14.99

A very lovely french muscat dessert wine. Not syrupy at all - light and floral, with honey and melon tones. My choice for a dessert offering for the 3rd or 4th cup of the night.

Cantina Gabriele 'Vino' NV Sweet Red
70% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese $9.99

This one came out last year but we brought it out again for those who might be looking for a slightly more sophisticated and less syrupy version of a Manichewitz. Far too sweet for my taste, but if that's what you'd like for your Seder, this is a nice alternative.

In addition to this year's tastings, the following wines are still available from Julio's of the wines we tasted last year. You can read last year's reviews here:

Joseph Mellot 'La Graveliere' Sancerre
100% Sauvignon Blanc $31.99

O'Dwyers Creek Sauvignon Blanc
100% single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $16.99

Ella Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay $24.99

Louis Blanc 'Vintage' Cotes du Rhone

Luis Felipe Edwards 'Terra Vega' Carmenere
100% Carmenere $7.99