Right Wine Makes Even Matzah Pop
PassoverUpgrading the Four Cups

Right Wine Makes Even Matzah Pop

The revival of Israel's ancient winemaking industry has gained the notice of Atlanta sommelier Eric Crane.

Rachel Fayne

Rachel is a reporter/contributor for the AJT and graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. After post graduate work at Columbia University, she teaches writing at Georgia State and hosts/produces cable programming. She can currently be seen on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters.

Eric Crane poses with Domaine du Castel founder and winemaker Eli Ben Zaken. The winery is a family-run operation west of Jerusalem.
Eric Crane poses with Domaine du Castel founder and winemaker Eli Ben Zaken. The winery is a family-run operation west of Jerusalem.

There’s no doubt that flavors of foods and the overall dining experience can be enhanced by wine, and the Passover meal is no exception.

You might know the basics: Pair reds with meats and whites with lighter dishes. But specific pairings can elevate and intensify the dishes on a Passover table.

Israeli wines can be a nice seder addition that honors the region’s age-old wine traditions, and they can be found in a many stores around Atlanta.

Atlanta sommelier Eric Crane visited Israel this year through a program sponsored by the Israel Export Institute and GuildSomm; eight American wine experts were selected to learn about Israeli wine culture firsthand.

Crane spent a week visiting wineries and was struck by the history of winemaking in Israel and the passion for the process demonstrated by so many Israelis, although Israel is just now receiving buzz as an up-and-coming wine producer.

The Muslim conquest of the land and subsequent anti-wine sentiments of the seventh century meant that most of the wineries were removed, and many indigenous grapes are disappearing or have ceased to exist.

For those visiting Israel and seeking an equal dose of history and dedication to the winemaking process, Crane suggests Yad HaShemona-based Domaine du Castel, where winemaker Eli Ben Zaken has made his passion for wine a family business.

Crane also visited Shiloh’s Gvaot, where a 3,500-year-old wine press carved into the rocks can be found beside the winery.

“Wine was being made in Israel so long ago,” Crane said. “Being there was like having one foot in history and the other in the present. It’s like time travel, knowing wines were made in this exact place both now and so long ago.”

Based on his knowledge of Jewish food and wine pairings, Crane has some suggestions for creative ways to use wine to bring out the unique flavor profiles of traditional seder foods:

  • Matzah — Try seasoning your matzah with savory spices and herbs like garlic and rosemary, then drink the seasoned matzah with your favorite red wine to begin the meal.
  • Charoset — The most important rule of pairing sweet dishes with wine is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food you’re eating. If not, the flavors will come across as sour or bitter. So pair charoset with an oaky wine like Pinot Noir or Merlot. Avoid reds with high alcohol content.
  • Matzah ball soup — Wine and soup can be a difficult pairing because of the temperature differences and the potential richness of the broth. But chilled wines work with hot soups because you get a different sensation with every bite. An oak-aged Chardonnay or a light red like Pinot Noir goes well. Sparkling wine also brings out some nice flavor notes.
  • Brisket — Simply put, red meats often pair well with deep red wines. A Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah will complement the brisket.

Crane can be found at this year’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, where he’ll conduct a seminar on Israeli wines and share some of his findings from his Israel visit.

“When you find something that means something to you, you tell others about it. You want to show it to everyone,” Crane said. “As a non-Jew myself, presenting these wines in my hometown was important. I was so moved by what was happening in Israel that I couldn’t not share it.”

The Food & Wine Festival is June 1 to 4. Tickets are available at atlfoodandwinefestival.com/tickets.

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