It’s Chanukah, so some festive libations are most definitely in order.
Not only are some jolly, celebratory wines appropriate to the occasion, they also make for great gifts. Sure, the contemporary tradition of Chanukah gift-giving is mostly just an American transmogrification mimicking Christmas of the actual Jewish custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money). But it’s mostly harmless, and besides, who but the most dyspeptic among us doesn’t enjoy giving and receiving gifts?
Further, such wines, whether of the bubbly or dessert-style, bring a lot to the table. Good dessert-style table wines, for example, not only offer a lower-calorie sweet alternative for those who eschew fried jelly donuts, chocolate coins and the like, but can also be paired well with such desserts and other classic Chanukah foods, like latkes with apple sauce or sour cream. Indeed, sweet wines may be paired beautifully with both sweet and salty foods. Just as chocolate-covered pretzels or kettle corn can be wonderful, pairing sweet wines with salty foods can be magical — making sweet wine taste less sweet, while making the salty item seem more savory than salty. The components seem to counteract each other a bit, allowing both to shine.
Little need be said about all the positive attributes of good bubbly, other than that it truly enlivens and elevates everything, from breakfast to post-prandial nightcap. Good bubbly simply pairs well with life. For those not yet enchanted, just to be perfectly clear, good bubbly pairs brilliantly with most foods. Champagne, for example, particularly loves salt and fat in food. The delicate suppleness, acidity, and bubbles of good Champagne — or Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, and the like — tend to enliven rather than overwhelm the senses, making most foods taste better.
Bubbly comes in all sorts of styles, of course, from sweet to bone-dry, but provided they are well-made, it’s hard to go too terribly wrong.
Here then are a couple of fun, festive wines to consider serving at, or bringing to, your next Chanukah bash:
Herzog, Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, 2013 ($20; mevushal): This luscious, aromatic, fruity yet serious sweet wine offers aromas and flavors of pear, honey, peach, apricot, mandarin oranges, mango, custard and a smidgen of candied ginger. Enough acidity and complexity to keep it both balanced and interesting.
Covenant, Zahav, Late Harvest Muscat Canelli, Suisin Valley, 2014 ($44; half-bottle): This fabulous, rich, sweet wine offers aromas and flavors of apricot, honey, honeysuckle, peach, raisins, candied nuts, overripe tropical fruits and orange peel. The finish is a tad clipped at first, but as it breathes, it lingers with some additional sweet complexity.
Golan Heights Winery, Gilgal, Brut, n.v. ($16): This méthode champenoise Israeli bubbly made from an equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from the Galilee is light-to medium-bodied and delicious, with aromas and flavors of green apple, lemon curd, hints of toasted bread and roasted nuts, with great acidity, long-lasting bubbles and a pleasingly lengthy finish. Terrific bang for the buck in kosher bubbly, too!
Spirits-wise, a solid and robust sherried single-malt Scotch seems in order — which means, of course, a Glenfarclas whisky from Scotland’s Speyside region. This is one of the very few remaining Scottish family-owned single-malt Scotch whisky distillery.
The name Glenfarclas is Scots Gaelic for “the valley of the green grassland.” The distillery was founded in 1836 by Robert Hay, but was bought in 1865 by John Grant and his son George (every male since is either a George or John). From 1865 until 1870, the Grants leased the distillery to John Smith who later went on to establish nearby Cragganmore distillery. Since then, the Grant family (J&G Grant) have owned and operated Glenfarclas, producing some of the very best Scotch whisky in the region. Here is one of my many perennial favorites:
Glenfarclas 105 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $80). This is one of those sherried malts for which metaphorical seatbelts are required. This is big, rich and round, and without adding at least a dash of water is hot and warming, and with water becomes distinctly softer, sporting a longer, smoother finish. Velvety smooth with aromas and flavors of raisins, prunes, dates, baked goods, dessert wine-type sweetness, something cocoa almost akin to Mexican mole sauce, with hints of what strikes us as curry and even chili spices, ginger, honey and bran flakes. This is powerful, alluring, luscious and delicious.