April 18, 2010 | 8:15 pm
Posted by Jeff Morgan
A friend was recently invited to his rabbi’s home for shabbos dinner. “It was wonderful,” he told me.
“What wine did you drink?” I asked.
He paused for a moment and then said, “Come to think of it, there wasn’t any wine.”
“Not even for Kiddush?
“Oh, yes,” he explained. “There was a thimble-full of sweet, Concord grape wine. Then everyone drank diet soda or water. After dinner the rabbi brought out some scotch, which we all enjoyed.”
Celebrating the Sabbath is a mitzvah. And it’s not my intention to disparage anyone’s efforts to that effect. But I must admit I was disappointed to hear about this apparent disconnect with the holiest of beverages—and also the one that tastes best with dinner. There seems to be a pattern here. In my travels among Jewish communities throughout America, I’ve found good wine to be a rarity at dinnertime, even when local wine shops carry it in profusion. The sad truth is that many American Jews don’t have much of a wine culture.
Native American Concord grapes—which are used for old-style kosher wines—are part of the problem. They do not even belong to the same species as European fine wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Concord grapes make funky, weird wines—sweet or not. It’s not surprising that many Jews still assume kosher wine tastes like the bizarre stuff their grandparents and parents drank on Fridays and holidays. Even worse, I’ve met Jews who have developed a taste for this stuff. They actually call it “traditional Jewish wine.” But it’s not what our ancestors drank in ancient Israel or, more recently, in Europe and North Africa.
A good meal without a good wine is, for me, a disappointment. Like the Jews of old, we drink wine at dinner (and often at lunch) every day at our house. Wine transforms each meal, no matter how simple, into a festival. (And a glass or two while eating should not affect any normal adult’s ability to function. It’s the drinking before or after that knocks people out.)
In fact wine, in moderation, is good for you. I can’t say the same for sodas and scotch. And water is kind of anti-climactic. It quenches thirst, but it doesn’t highlight what you’re eating.
By the way, I like to drink a good scotch now and then. But it’s not really meant to accompany a meal. And the high alcohol makes me drowsy. As for sweet drinks like soda—they tend to overwhelm savory dishes. So you’re not doing your cholent any favors by killing it with cola or Concord grape wine either.
I don’t pretend to know why we make Kiddush on wine. But I do know that a good bottle enhances almost any meal. This Friday night (or any night) you can celebrate Jewish tradition and eating well with a glass of good-tasting wine that fits your budget. It will change your quality of life—and make your dinner guests happy too!
Author and winemaker Jeff Morgan is co-owner of Covenant Wines in Napa Valley. More information about Covenant can be found at www.covenantwines.com.
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