There are a variety of traditions for celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the new year of trees, which falls this year on Jan. 31. The most common are planting trees and gathering with family and friends for a meal that includes fruits and nuts native to Israel and, of course, wine.
While the primary significance of the day had to do with Jewish agricultural rules and tithes related to fruit-bearing trees, more recently it was adopted in Israel as its Arbor Day, a day for environmental awareness and for planting trees.
A custom that has caught on in the wider Jewish world over the last two decades is the Tu B’Shevat seder, patterned after the Passover seder. It has its origins in the 16th century mystical seder of Rabbi Isaac Luria, which entailed eating a variety of symbolic fruits and, like on Passover, drinking four cups of wine.
The traditional and seemingly inescapable culinary treat of the day is dried fruits and nuts. Why dried fruit? Since fresh fruits were typically unavailable to Jews in Europe and North Africa during the winter months, traditional Tu B’Shevat meals involved dishes based on dried raisins, apples, apricots, figs, carobs, dates and walnuts. It is also traditional to prepare other foods using the “seven species” described in the Deuteronomy 8:8 as being abundant in the land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey).
For wines, I’m turning to producers noted for their sustainability and eco-conscience practices. I’ve selected two whites and two reds. Two from Israel’s Galil Mountain Winery, one from California’s Napa Green Certified Hagafen Cellars, and one from the Austria Bio Garantie De La Rosa Vineyards label from Mönchhof (Burgenland), Austria.
De La Rosa, Ur Kasdim, Sweet White Sparkling Muscat Ottonel, 2016 ($27; mevushal): This fun, supple, enjoyable, frizzante-style sparkler made from late harvest muscat ottonel (part of the muscat grape family) is flowery and fruity, with distinct muscat characteristics. Makes for a great alternative sweet sparkler.
Hagafen, Lake County, White Riesling, Napa Valley, Calif., 2016 ($24; mevushal): This runs a tad sweet, but is light, fun and full of tropical fruits, with balancing, refreshing acidity; absolutely delicious.
Galil Mountain, Ela, Upper Galilee, Israel, 2014 ($22): This rich yet supple red blend (61 percent Barbera, 30 percent syrah, 5 percent petit verdot, 4 percent grenache) offers aromas of dark plum, sour cherry, raspberry, mocha and perhaps a subtle waft of toasted oak, with a ripe fruit palate that also offers blackberry, pomegranate and a little thyme. The tannins grip a bit, but are nicely integrated; the finish is more sour cherry.
Galil Mountain, Alon, Upper Galilee, Israel, 2013 ($20): With an expressive and aromatic, ripe fruit, sweet red and dark berry driven nose, with a touch of mint and some herbal notes, this somewhat stocky figured bruiser proves remarkably agile and fit on the palate — more ripe fruit (tangy blackberry, black cherry and dark plum), a savory quality, nice rounded acidity, a significant tannic lift, and a lightly spicy finish. L’chaim!
Send your wine and liquor questions and challenges to [email protected].