Break your fast with — Champagne


Every family seems to have its own traditions when it comes time to breaking the fast. Usually a milchik (diary) or pareve (neutral) meal, the dishes might range from one relative’s treasured lokshen kugel (egg noodle pudding) to another’s prized blintzes, to a table laden with various vorspeis (appetizers) of fish (various picked herrings, white fish salad, lox, etc.) along with cream cheese and bagels. Typically there will be plenty of desserts or at least sweet foods, such as honey or jams — serving as both reminder and ardent wish of life’s sweetness and the promise of the New Year. Usually there will also be eggs, recalling the cycle of life. Delicious and nostalgic, yes, but this is essentially breakfast fare — that is, these menus are not exactly screaming for wine.

So what wine goes best with breakfast foods? Well, the fabled choice of the fabulously wealthy seems appropriate. We mean, of course, Champagne, or at least a quality sparkling wine — the mere presence of natural bubbles is what makes it always seem so deliciously decadent (note: seltzer-induced wine spritzers will definitely not have the same effect).

A delicious sparkling option is available from the Hagafen winery of Napa Valley, Calif. Their excellent Hagafen Cuvee de Noirs 2007 ($36) is an orange-hued, mevushal beauty made of an 80/20 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The wine’s strawberry, peach and raspberry flavors dance lightly on a citrus frame, with hints of melon and white chocolate. This should work well with smoked fish and should even play off the creaminess of the cheese and eggs.

Perhaps an even better option, however, might be the equally dry but more fruit-driven Hagafen Riesling 2012 ($24), its acidity will do an even better job cutting thru the oiliness of the various fishy delicacies. This Hagafen Riesling is a bright and well-balanced dry riesling that opens with green apple and citrus aromas, leading into lingering peach, grapefruit and lime flavors. Versatile and very food-friendly, it is a great choice to pair with the customary end of Yom Kippur foods and any leftover bottles can be served later with spicy oriental foods and salads.

Ernie Weir and his wife Irit founded Hagafen winery in 1979 and their wines have been served at the White House on many occasions. As a testament to their high quality, much of their annual production is sold to, and consumed by, non-Jews. The family-owned and -operated winery is located on Napa’s Silverado Trail between the Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap appellations and boasts a very popular tasting room.

Spirits-wise, again, a breakfast-type meal doesn’t exactly scream for anything in particular — or rather if it does, your problems are far weightier than the matter of which particular spirit to consider. But this is not breakfast as such, merely breakfast-like foods with which to break one’s fast. Further, bagels, lox, herrings and the like, are all common anytime Jewish foods. So really some kind of booze is not wholly inappropriate, right? (OK, so this seems a little thin? Well, think of this as simply one of the occupational hazards of trying to intellectually justify in a public, written forum, alcoholic consumption that, frankly, needs no justification. We’re talking evening, were talking oily fish, and the breaking of bread with one’s friends and family — of course, a little whisky is in order). For this purpose we heartily recommend the Bunnahabhain Toiteach Single Malt Scotch Whisky from the Islay region of Scotland.

Established in 1881, Bunnahabhain (pronounced “’boon-a-havn”) is located in the northern part of Islay and is the famous whisky-producing island that lies off the west coast of Scotland. Indeed, it is the most remote of all the distilleries on the island. Most of its production has gone to blends, rather than single-malt releases, and the brand has only really been given some new life, expansion, and revitalization since 2003 when it was acquired by Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd.

Bunnahabhain is typically considered one of the milder single malt Islay whiskies available, as it traditionally uses very little peat smoke in the malting of its barley. In most of its whiskies, there’ll be a subtle whiff of smoke among the more fruity flavors, but little more than a whiff, and certainly none of those medicinal, iodine-like, peaty characteristics that most folks look for in an Islay whisky.

In the ongoing effort towards revitalization, however, Burn Stewart Distillers decided to try something different. So they introduced the Bunnahabhain Toiteach (pronounced “toch-chach” or maybe “toch-ach,” or is it “toe-check”? When are Scotch whisky marketing folks going to finally understand that these Gaelic names do nothing for the bulk of their global target audience! Seriously, get a grip people). Toiteach means “smoky” in Scots Gaelic, so we are told. According to their website, this whisky “answers the question: ‘What if a touch of smoke from our peated malted barley was introduced in the distillation process?’ ” The answer, thankfully, is both interesting and delicious.

Bunnahabhain Toiteach Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $100): this light, golden-colored, nonchill-filtered, nonage-statement, whisky offers a lovely billow of powerful yet gentle peat smoke right up front, along with a little youthful, alcoholic heat, which serves the peat well, and acts as an inviting, if enveloping, backdrop to the aromas and flavors of burnt toffee, caramel, honey, sweet malted barley, salt water, raisins, and dried apricots, and a smidgen of cracked black pepper. The finish is long and complex, with smoke, peat, and pepper lingering awhile before easing off to a biscuit, scone-like sweetness. A touch of water helps cool the slight heat of the not yet fully matured alcohol. The first taste is good and an interesting variation on the house style; the second is even better, and even more rewarding; the third is — well, simply delicious. This is indeed a lovely and happy answer to the question of Bunnahabhain and peat. L’Chaim!

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