Monday, February 7, 2022

The Blog Reboot - now at

For those who receive notifications of new posts on this blog, you've not heard from me here for a couple of years. I'm officially retiring this blog and there will be no further updates here.

I have just launched a personal website at All of my old blog posts from this site have been imported over there, and new posts will appear there moving forward.  The new site is designed to be the landing page for all of my personal, creative endeavors, including a new area of focus that I expect to be launching and developing in the coming months.

Stay tuned for A dram and a drash - a podcast that will be accompanied by blog post updates that represent the blending of my amateur interest in all things whiskey and Jewish wisdom. More on this project is at

To continue to receive updates in your inbox when the podcast launches and when I post something new on the blog, please scroll to the subscribe box on the new site and submit your email address (scroll down past 'recent posts' on the right side of the page).

I hope you'll join me at my new site, and I look forward to sharing new posts and insights with you soon.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Loving, Pride, Equality and Justice A sermon on Loving Day during Pride Month in the face of racial injustice

This sermon was delivered at Congregation B'nai Shalom on June 12, 2020

I’d like to take a few minutes tonight to talk about Loving. It turns out that in this moment, on this particular day, there are a lot of very pertinent ways to think about and talk about Loving.

Let’s begin with a piece of important history. June 12 is officially ‘Loving Day’ in a number of US States. The day is named for the monumental case, Loving v. Virginia, and the interracial couple at its center, Richard and Mildred Loving. The 1967 Supreme Court decision struck down 16 state bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional.

Fast-forward to 2015, one in six newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity which is more than five times higher than the number of intermarried newlyweds in 1967, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. So much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t. Half a century later, "the toxic residue of Jim Crow across the centuries continues to make its way down the streets and into people's lives."

Those of you in our congregation who are married to someone of a different ethnic background, with a different color of skin to you have directly lived the blessing of coming of age and falling in love after the ‘Loving vs Virginia’ case. You can attest to the looks that you may have received, the strange questions you might get, and the assumptions made about the relationship between you and your kids by strangers on the street. I know that this isn’t every day and all the time, but I know that these experiences haven’t disappeared. I know because I’m the grandparent of mixed race grandchildren. I know because I’ve been out to dinner with my wife, my adult step-children, their other step-mom, my son-in-law whose family background is Philippine and my daughter-in-law whose mother is Korean, and father was African-American. And the waitress in a cool, hipster restaurant in Brooklyn finally couldn’t hold back any longer as we were paying the check and just couldn’t figure out how we were all related.

It wasn’t aggressive and it wasn’t negative. But if you are hearing words like ‘white supremacy’ or ‘implicit bias’ more these days and you’ve not really taken the time to read or study about these things, you might be wondering what is so wrong with the way things are. We have been socially conditioned to put people in different categories and boxes because of their skin color and ethnic features.
We haven’t yet learned to assume that what appears to be a family is a family, even if it looks different to yours. And, unfortunately, too many people still believe that they get to judge what is and is not acceptable.

Lets talk about another kind of loving. Because this is also Pride month. Before marriage equality for gays and lesbians was recognized Federally across all 50 states in 2015 (that’s a mere 5 years ago!), I used to wonder why the heterosexual majority got to decide if I deserved marriage. Heteronormative assumptions about society implicitly and, through law, explicitly and structurally, meant that ‘society’ was heterosexual and those of us who were not that were outside of the norm and needed to fight for 5 decades to argue, fight, protest, and march… and educate – to reach a point when ‘society’ decided to bestow these equal rights upon us. And we’re not there yet. People who are transgender don’t have equal rights in all 50 States. They can lose their jobs just because of their gender; nothing to do with their job performance. They are at much higher risk of experiencing physical violence perpetuated against them because of their gender. The current administration has been working to undermine the ability of same sex couples to have the same opportunities to adopt children in need of forever families as heterosexual couples. And I could go on. For no legitimate reason save for who they love and have built a home with. Or because their gender identity is different.

I understand these issues better because they are part of my own lived experience. And perhaps you understand them because you know me, or you’ve had direct experiences like these, or you’ve just reached a place where you understand and embrace this kind of diversity. Why do transgender people need our permission to live openly and go to work and go to restaurants and movies and stores feeling safe. What is it about some of these groups that society determines where they belong or if they belong or whether they have the same rights freedoms and opportunities as you or I? And if you believe that, once the inequality has been explained and challenged, it should be addressed, the next question must be… is that just an idea of what ‘nice’ looks like to you, or have you engaged actively in the advocacy and educational work required to make those changes a reality? That’s the difference between being ‘not homophobic’ and being actively ‘pro-LGBTQ equality.’

When we listen to African-Americans now it is the same question. Why do they have to wait for ‘society’ (unspoken but assumed to be a white majority that holds the power’)to grant them equality?

There was a time when traveling when I would always choose bed and breakfasts from a site called purple roofs. This site listed LGBT friendly places to stay or gay or lesbian owned places. I did not want to stay somewhere where Suri and I would feel eyes on us and be uncomfortable or possibly unsafe as we traveled to parts of the country that I was not familiar with.

This is an experience that African Americans have on a regular basis. Not just where they might travel to but how they pass through neighborhoods and other spaces in the course of their everyday lives. It is how and why a young man taking a jog can end up shot to death. And this is just a modern version of how it was in past decades where a black man who might glance at a white woman or say something in passing on the street could end up lynched. This is why these recent killings of black men whether by law enforcement or by civilians is a contemporary version of lynching. The underlying assumptions of the one who is looking at the black man as out of place are essentially the same. Both are racist.
And the difference between being ‘not racist’ and actively being ‘anti-racist’ is whether or not we see it as our responsibility to bring about the structural changes that would make true equality, opportunity, and safety, a reality in the lives of those who are telling us that this is not the case now.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about politics. It’s not about left vs right. It is about love. Today is Loving day. In Jewish tradition, one of our great Sages re-presents the Torah teaching to ‘Love Your Neighbor as yourself.’ Rather, Hillel teaches it this way:   "What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow" (Shabbat 31a). If you are wondering what your role is in all of this and what, if anything, you should be doing, start here.

Let’s listen to a few seconds of anti-racism educator, Jane Elliott. [play video]

Listen to her words asking us ‘Is this how you would want to be treated?’ And if your answer is ‘no’ then let’s do some learning and listening and figure out how we might be able to help bring about change.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Iron Chef Passover and Wine Tasting 2018 - video and reviews!

This year's pre-Passover program went beyond the wine department. Yes, we partnered with Toni deLuca at Julio's Liquors again, bringing back some favorites from the past couple of years and adding in some new selections. But this year was made extra-special by the incredible foodie contributions of Rabbi Sharon Sobel and her brother Ari, along with our very own in-house chef Rabbi Joe, who contributed to the wonderful dessert options. In the space of less than 2 hours, a number of menu items were showcased to bring fresh ideas and deliciousness to your Passover Seder. And everyone present got to taste everything! Thank you to Temple Beth Am of Framingham for partnering with Congregation B'nai Shalom for this special evening.

At the bottom of this post is the livestream archive of the whole evening for your viewing pleasure. But first, my reviews of this year's wine tastings.
Wine Reviews

Notte Italiano Prosecco - Italy  $16.99
Joseph Mellot Sancerre – France $31.99
Terra  Vega Rose – Chile $7.99
Louis Blanc Cotes du Rhone Rouge - France $14.99
Terra Vega Pinot Noir - Chile $7.99
La Citadelle de Diamant Caesar Red Blend – Israel $29.99
Bartenura Brachetto - Italian sweet red, lightly sparkling

We've enjoyed several of these wines in previous years' tastings but we brought them back as some of the best of the batch. 
The light Prosecco is a lovely way to kick of Passover - we served it as an aperitif as people arrived and tasted charoset and appetizers before the main program began. It has light notes of pear and is medium dry.  

The Sancerre is the priciest wine on the list but it is the most complex and well-balanced wines on the list that we served. It remains one of my favorites. 

Over the past couple of years, we've enjoyed the Terra Vega offerings. A couple of years ago we had their Carmenere, which is more often a grape that is used in smaller quantities in a blended wine. But it stands out on its own in a very easy-drinking wine. Their Rose is bright and fruity, fun to drink and an unbeatable value like the rest of their line. 

I had tasted the Louis Blanc Cotes du Rhone prior to our evening but we didn't actually serve it on the night as the distributor wasn't able to get it to us for orders for Passover. It is smooth on the palate, low in tanins, with dark blackcurrant fruit notes. Instead we served the Terra Vega Pinot Noir at our tasting. Like the rest of the Terra Vega range, it is very easy-drinking and an excellent value. It did not have the character that the Carmenere or the Rose had, in my opinion, and was a little light for a Pinot Noir. It might be a nice red option if you are serving a chicken dish with a richer sauce but could easily be overwhelmed by brisket or meat stew.  

The Citadelle de Diamant Caesar Red Blend was the fullest bodied red of the night. Some tanins and big flavors in the mouth, it will pair well with beef dishes. 

The final taste of the night was a substitute for what we originally had on the tasting menu - Vino Sweet Red (Italy). The Vino had been a big hit last year for those who actually enjoy Manischewitz and are looking for a slightly more sophisticated and lighter sweet wine for Seder. Our batch arrived 'corked' - a number of the corks had come into contact with something that damaged the cork and, therefore, damaged the wine. We did a last minute switch to the Bartenura Brachetto. I, personally, am not a big fan of these sweet options (I'd prefer to go for a Muscat dessert wine, of which we've had the Butcher's Daughter Muscat from France in previous years). However, the Bartenura doesn't have the syrupy sweetness of the Vino and was a light, fun wine for those who enjoy the sweeter experience for their Passover Seder.

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

#BlogElul 2: Act - Thinking about Mitzvot as a kind of technology

Every year, my colleague, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, offers bloggers a shared list of themes that, if followed, allow for some neat collections of thought pieces or images (the #ElulGram) to be found throughout the web on the same theme on the same day. While I seldom keep up with a daily post during this month, I'll be following the general flow of the themes above, and thank Phyllis for the connections that she helps us all make in the blogosphere. On Facebook or Twitter, just search for #BlogElul to see what others are writing.

Inspired by my teacher, Rabbi Irwin Kula, who has been thinking a great deal in recent years about disruptive innovations and how they might be reshaping Jewish experience in North America and beyond. I'd like to riff off of Phyllis' theme of day 2, 'Act' by introducing the notion that Mitzvot can be thought of as a kind of technology. It was Clay Shirky who, in talking about disruptive innovations, asked us to consider of whatever is the focus of our attention the question, 'what job does it do?' In one easy to grasp example that he offers, he considers the ways in which new technologies have changed the way that we consume music. From the gramophone which brought the sounds of live performances into the homes of listeners, to the rise of the cassette tape and the introduction of the portable cassette player and then the 'walkman', enabling us to carry our own music with us into the street and other spaces; from the CD player to the iPod, exponentially increasing how much music we could transport with us and how little space in our homes we would need to store it, to today's online streaming music services. As consumers, we have responded to each new technology that made listening to music, finding new music, and sharing music a little bit easier. In the process, companies that made old hardware had to either recreate themselves to offer the newer technology, or would find themselves out of business. When something came along that did the essential job better, cheaper, in a way that was more portable, offered more choice, etc. it became the next thing.

We can take Shirky's question, 'what job does it do?' And ask it of all kinds of things that we use or choose to do. If we accept his basic assumption, if it has a purpose, we will continue to use it or do the activity in question. Religion clearly does an important job for many people. For sure, we live at a time when more people than in the past are questioning that assumption, but the fact that so many of us are engaged in religious life, communities of faith, and ritual practices, suggest that these continue to do a job for us, as individuals and as a community. Exactly what that job is is a little more complex to define than the role of something that delivers music, and the answer may not be the same for everyone. Yet, as the societies and cultures that we live in continues to evolve and change, being able to look at our traditions through this lens can help us stay true to the essence of what Judaism is helping us do even if some of the outer forms (style of a service, choice of music, where rituals take place, the role of online communities, etc.) are changing.

In traditional verbiage, a mitzvah is a commandment. To young children, we sometimes say it is a good deed. But that doesn't really capture the full essence of mitzvah. Some of the acts that are commanded as Mitzvot are ethical in nature, but some don't come with an explanation in Torah or in rabbinical texts. What would it look like to take a list of Mitzvot and ask the question from a modern perspective, 'what job does it do?'. Rabbi Kula is thinking about a project that does exactly this. If we can demonstrate how a mitzvah deepens our awareness of the world, strengthens our relationships with others, enables us to have an experience that we might label holy or spiritual, provides a mechanism for taking care of the vulnerable and needy, brings mindful awareness to our engaging in ordinary, everyday things, and so on... We can begin to reframe the deep, deep value of some of the Mitzvot of our tradition. Mitzvah as a technology that we can use.... What mitzvah comes to mind that really speaks to you and helps to shape your sense of self, or sense of holy, or sense of obligation to another?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#BlogElul 1 5776: Who am I? What do I aspire to be?

creative commons; attribution 273C on
Who am I?

One of the most essential and yet perhaps most difficult of questions to answer. I can tell you where I was born. I can tell you about my family. I can tell you what I do for a living. I can tell you about some of my favorite and least favorite activities. Perhaps I can go a little deeper and tell you about some of the characteristics that are most present in me, and others that are not so present. I can tell you what I most like about myself and what most disappoints me about myself.

How much of the above gets to the essence of who I am?  How much is superficial and descriptive? Is it even possible to respond to the question of 'Who are you?' in words, or is the best answer, perhaps, the way that we conduct ourselves and the things that we do with the length of our days?

As we begin the hebrew month of Elul, which announces that we are approaching another Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, this is the time that our traditions encourage us to reflect on these core questions of essence. Who am I? Who do I aspire to be? This year, those of us in the USA are also asking that question communally in a more intense and reflective way. Once every four years, as we decide who will represent us in the highest office in the land, we look at the character of our leaders and the way that they describe the landscape in which they hope to govern and make progress. We have to ask ourselves, who do we aspire to be? What values will shape our sense of self as a nation?

As in previous years, I will be using my blog to offer brief reflections several times a week during Elul, that provide some food for thought as we grapple with these core questions. This year, I'm going to be using the lens of technology and technological innovation to inspire a different way of trying to get at the essence of what it means to be human. This is inspired by the topic that our congregation has taken on for the coming 1.5 years, supported by a grant from 'Scientists in Synagogues' provided by Sinai and Synapses. Here is an excerpt from a book that has been inspiring a lot of my thinking as I prepare sermons for the High Holy Days this year on this topic:

Kevin Kelly, author of ‘The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape our Future” presents the following insights:

… we’ve been redefining what it means to be human. Over the past 60 years, as mechanical processes have replicated behaviors and talents that we thought were unique to humans, we’ve had to change our minds about what sets us apart. As we invent more species of AI [artifical intelligence], we will be forced to surrender more of what is supposedly unique about humans… We’ll spend the next three decades – indeed, perhaps the next century – in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for. If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special?(p. 48-9)

Today, many of the debates about the impact of technological innovation on our sense of self and our communities gets simplified into the binaries of 'good' or 'bad' impacts. But we are, and have always been, creatures who use technological innovation to enable us to do more and be more. From the most basic of tools that enabled us to mold, shape, and change things in our natural environment, to the technologies that enabled us to write - first on clay plastered on rocks, then on papyrus or parchment, and later in books, with printing presses enabling an enormous leap forward in the democratization of knowledge, literacy, and language - we are not and could not be who we are today, either individually or communally, without the integral role that technologies have played in enabling us to become more.

I hope you will join me in this exploration of ideas as we look at the question of 'who am I?' through a different lens, as we begin this month to recenter ourselves and find our way back to more deeply understanding 'who do I aspire to be?'

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kosher Wines for Passover: Not your Grandfather's Manischewitz!

Last week, I co-hosted a Kosher for Passover wine tasting at Julio's Liquors in Westborough. Julio's, for those not familiar with it, is not your typical liquor store. They hold several free tasting events a week, ranging from wine evenings, to whiskey, to beer, and many weekend afternoon festivals featuring large selections from multiple distributors. They have a large basement space dedicated to these events. For me, the result is that I've not bought anything that I didn't like in the past four years, because I've had an opportunity to taste pretty much everything I've purchased prior to buying.

With around 70 people filling the room, we had a lot of fun tasting a broad range of kosher for Passover wines from all over the world, distributed by Monsieur Touton wines. For those who could not attend in person but wanted a review so that they could stop by to make a purchase before Passover (or for those reading this in other locations who are on the hunt for something a bit different), here are my tasting notes from the evening.

I began the evening with a quick history of wine-producing among Jews, what makes a wine Kosher (and kosher for Passover), and what the origins of the four cups of wine are. I won't post the full presentation here, but just a few key points:
1) Ancient Israel is one of the earliest sources of vineyard growth and wine making in the world. Biblical references include Noah, and the 12 spies who brought a huge vine of grapes back from Canaan as proof of the fertility of the land.
2) The Talmud references 60 varieties of wine. Wines were flavored with spices, salt, date honey, and cooked into a sweet syrup (the equivalent of today's Manischewitz and other sweet kiddush wines).
3) In winemaking there is a process called 'fining' which helps to remove some of the soluble particulates from wine. These can be from organic or inorganic sources. When an animal product is used it renders the wine unkosher. Additionally, for those who are strictly observant, a wine will need a kosher certification stamp on it. Kosher for Passover wines are those where the certifiers will verify that the wine has not come into contact with any grain product from harvest to production.  Wine that is 'mevushal' is very quickly flash pasteurized. Today, that can be done with lasers. Historically, it left a somewhat 'cooked' odor to the wine, but today's technology can lead to some 'mevushal' wines being pretty good. The reason for this process has to do with some pretty ancient halachah about avoiding wines that may have been used for idolatrous purposes, and/or mixing with non-Jews in taverns. It has little relevance today, except for strictly observant Jews who continue to follow the letter of the law.
4) The Passover Seder was modeled on the Greek Symposium - a gathering that involved copious amounts of wine drinking. There was some debate in the Talmud about how many cups of wine should be drunk at a Seder. It took a while for our ritual today to become fully formed and settled. One interesting remnant of the original debate is 'Elijah's Cup'. When some rabbis advocated for a fifth cup (based on how they were parsing phrases in Exodus that refer to God's redemption of the slaves from Egypt), it was decided to pour a fifth cup but not drink it. Elijah, who tradition has it will announce the coming of the Messiah, was also understood by these ancient rabbis to be able to answer all unanswered questions when he came. Apparently, this included the question of how much wine we should drink at our Seder!

Here are the wines we sampled and their 'regularly listed' price. For those going to Julio's who mention last week's tasting, they will honor the preferential pricing they had, while stocks last.

Louis Blanc 'Les Favieres' 2015 Coteaux Varois en Provence $19.99
This is an excellent Rose wine that I'd be happy to drink at any time. If you are serving chicken at your Seder, this would be a nice accompaniment. Hints of watermelon, raspberry, and mint. Vibrant, long finish. Mevushal.  This sold out at our tasting, but you can place an order with Julio's.

Joseph Mellot 'La Graveliere' 2014 Sancerre $31.99
From the Loire Valley in NE France. The priciest wine that we tasted, but an exceptionally good Sancerre. 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Flavors of red grapefruit, balanced minerals, and a little spice on the finish. This sold out at our tasting, but you can place an order with Julio's.

O'Dwyers Creek 2015 Sauvignon Blanc $16.99
100% single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. Also organic, vegan and mevushal.
More a mix of tropical fruits (pineapple and passion) than the Sancerre. Citrus, lemon/lime finish -  more acidity than the Sancerre. Very fragrant.

Ella Valley Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay $20.98
100% Chardonnay
I've been a big fan of Ella Valley wines since I tasted them about 10 years ago at an Israeli Wine Festival at the Israel museum, Jerusalem (the same museum that holds the Dead Sea Scrolls). I don't love all of their range equally, but on the whole I've found them to be consistently among the better wines to come out of Israel. Not the cheapest here in the USA, but I'd rather pay an extra $5 for an Ella wine than a mediocre Dalton, Alfasi, or Carmel wine any day.

A light, almost sherbert-like crispness with green apple, lemon, and a touch of cinnamon. If you like Chardonnay, you'll like this one.  Monsieur Touton is no longer carrying Ella Valley wines, so the case or two that is left at Julio's is the last they'll be bringing into the State of MA for a while.

Louis Blanc 'Vintage' 2012 Cotes du Rhone $14.99
Main grape is Syrah. Also some Grenache and one or two other varietals in small quantities.
Dark blackcurrant and peppery finish with medium tannins. Will pair well with lamb or beef.

La Fille du Boucher (The Butcher's Daughter) 2012 Bordeaux Reserve $14.99
70% Merlot 30% Cabernet. A great story to this wine. Named for the daughter of the largest Kosher meat family producer in France. The daughter runs a famous kosher restaurant in the Old Jewish quarter, Paris.  This wine is a very dry red with deep fruits and medium tannins and a long finish. You'll enjoy this if you like an earthier, heavier red. Will pair well with a fattier meat like lamb or a brisket.

Luis Felipe Edwards 'Terra Vega' 2014 Bin No. 964 Carmenere $7.99  From Chile
This sold out at our tasting, but you can place an order with Julio's.
This was a big hit at our tasting. Very pleasant, fruity wine that is very competitively priced. Lacks some of the depth of the larger, drier reds, but a very nice wine to either drink by itself, or with a lighter meat dish. I'd even suggest pairing with chicken or turkey if you prefer a red wine. It has a beautiful deep, red color but is light on the nose and has a fruity, blueberry taste with a slightly peppery finish.

Ella Valley Vineyards 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $29.99
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.
See my notes above the Ella Chardonnay for my personal preference for this winemaker and the limited availability moving forward in MA.

This is a well-rounded, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon wine. It has deep blackcurrant tones, a hint of licorice, and forthright but well-balanced tannins. I'm making a Moroccan beef stew for my Seder so this is the kind of full-flavored dry red that will pair well with a rich, meaty dish. It might be a bit heavy on the tannins and spice for some (in which case the Carmenere is probably the wine for you), but this and La Fille Du Boucher are, in my opinion, the more sophisticated and 'big' wines of the range that we tasted.

Cantina Gabriele 'Vino' NV Sweet Red $9.99.
70% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese.
Think of this as a better 'upmarket' version of Manischewitz. It has a very slight sparkle to it and is sweet but not cloying or syrupy. It comes from South of Rome and is certified vegan as well as Kosher.  This isn't my personal taste - I like a chilled dessert wine like a light Muscat, Sauternes, or Icewine. But this one was also a sell-out at the tasting, and I even brought home a bottle, knowing that I'll have guests who really won't enjoy the Ella Valley Cabernet but would rather have something like this. And its only 5.5% ABV!

I hope you try something a little different for your Passover meal this year. One thing everyone at our tasting came away appreciating - there's much more to Kosher wine than Manischewitz!
Chag Pesach Sameach!