The oft-sung phrase “Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha” — When the month of Adar arrives we should increase our joy — always makes me reach for a drink.
Indeed, Purim is here! So why read about booze when you could be drinking it?
After all, we have a responsibility to, as the Talmud in Tractate Megillah (7b) instructs us, “Drink on Purim until one does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” Who am I to argue with the Talmud?!
Even if relative immoderation is the order of the day, however, one should always strive to drink responsibly. As the great Dean Martin sagely put it: “If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.”
But what to drink? To help narrow down the choices, I decided to focus on two otherwise utterly disparate producers whose latest wines I recently tasted — the Israeli Beit El Winery, and the vegan, organic certified, De La Rosa brand from Burgenland, Austria.
The Beit El Winery is an up-and-coming Israeli boutique operation in the Israeli settlement of the same name, about 30-45 minutes north of Jerusalem. The settlement was established in the late 1970s and granted local council status in 1997. Just a year before, in 1996, Hillel Manne and his wife Nina moved to the area and began planting vineyards. Having studied at UC Davis and having experience in both agriculture and viticulture, Manne had a sense of the area’s potential for growing wine grapes.
Initially, Manne sold his grapes to other wineries, but the bug for making his own wine out of his grapes soon developed. In 2012 he hired the great Lewis Pasco as consulting winemaker, and since then the wines have been getting ever better.
The De La Rosa line of wines hails from Burgenland, Austria, from a family estate located in the picturesque town of Mönchhof, east of Lake Neusiedl. This family estate has been producing wines there for 800 years, and specifically kosher certified wines since 1980. Their vineyards have also been certified organic since 2007. They produce a wide range of wines, such as sweet Kiddush-style, dry table wines, sparkling, and very fine dessert wines.
Here, then, are some choice options to help us all find religion and imbibe the spirit of Purim:
Beit El Winery, Cliff View Carignan, Single Vineyard, 2017/5777 ($27.99): This is young, rich, earthy, fruity and tasty, with aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry, cranberry, sweet blueberry, sweet vanilla, a little white pepper and a distinctive, yet appealing, smidge of nutmeg on the finish.
Beit El Winery, Valley Gate Malbec, Single Vineyard, 2017/5777 ($27.99): With appealing notes of black cherry, blackberry, plum, dark chocolate, a little vanilla and some lovely dill, capped by an enjoyably smoky finish. A little air helps these elements aromatically bloom too. All around, an enjoyable Israeli Malbec.
Beit El Winery, Valley Gate Marselan, Tal Binyamin Series No. 1/3, 2016/5777 ($35.99): Originally a Languedoc hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache used often in Rhone blends, the Marselan grape has shown some real promise in parts of Israel. This is a nice example, with enjoyable wild brambly aromas and flavors, along with notes of cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry and a touch of both anise and sage.
Beit El Winery, Amona Cabernet Sauvignon, Tal Binyamin Series No. 2/3, 2016/5777 ($35.99): This is a lovely, somewhat brooding, cab offering notes of partially sour plumb, and assorted red, blue and black fruits, along with some intriguing smoked meat notes, spice and an absorbing finish.
De La Rosa, Ur Kasdim, Sweet White Sparkling Muscat Ottonel, 2016 (mevushal; $28): This fun, supple, enjoyable, frizzante-style sparkler is made from late-harvest Muscat Ottonel grapes.
De La Rosa, Ashray Chardonnay, Late Hadrvest Sweet Wine, 2015 (mevushal; $19.99): Simple, but balanced and utterly delicious with lovely honeyed fruit notes of sweet, juicy apples, both ripe and dried apricots, quince and hints of pineapple;
De La Rosa, Sasson, Lev, St. Laurent, 2015 (mevushal; $20): This is enjoyable, aromatic and nimble, with an air of assertiveness, offering notes of black elderberries, blueberries and even some bing cherries, all against a backdrop of graphite, with a long, smooth, satisfying finish.
De La Rosa, Donash 702, Sweet White Wine, Trocken Beeren Auslese, 2010 ($33): This lovely Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) — a German wine term meaning “selected harvest of dried berries” — is a lovely, aromatic, rich, medium-to-full bodied, moderately sweet dessert wine made from the Scheurebe grape. With good concentration and fine balancing acidity, this beauty offers honeyed peach and dried apricot fruit notes on a lightly spicy background.
De La Rosa, Prince Valenti, Icewine, Welsh Riesling, 2010 (mevushal; $60): This is a full, fruity, lush and lovely icewine — produced from grapes left on the vines well past harvest, allowing them to freeze naturally on the vine so that the juice is highly concentrated — with complex aromas and flavors of apricots, honeyed raisins and ginger cookies. An excellent sweet dessert wine!