It is truly mind-boggling to think that Purim is around the corner. What has happened in the world since Purim last year is almost unbelievable. Yet, here we are, gearing up for megillah, mishloach manot, the seudah, etc. Baruch God, most of us will be in shul for megillah and with our loved ones for the seudah. Let us make a point this year to make Purim especially meaningful. And by meaningful, I certainly do not mean drunk to stupor. If we are here, safe and healthy, it means that is what God wanted, and blessed us in his bountiful mercy.
Recently, I was interviewed on a radio show to comment about the growth of the kosher wine market. Especially to defend the materialistic reality that is the proliferation of many high-end wines retailing at $40, $80, $100, or more. Not everyone can afford such wines, of course. Wine in that regard is not much different from houses, cars, clothing, and the like. We do not need luxurious wine, or cars, or houses, or clothes to survive. However, as long as we are blessed enough to afford luxury in one or several areas and appreciate it without making it the primary focus of our life, in my humble opinion, indulging a bit is a way to show gratitude to God. Some of us genuinely appreciate wine, sipping a glass of great wine, savoring each aroma and flavor, the texture, the structure of the wine at the Shabbat table or the Purim seudah for that matter is, for us, a legitimate way to elevate a spiritual moment. Others prefer whisky, tequila, rum, vodka, or maybe have no taste for alcoholic beverages and prefer spring water, music, or maybe chocolate. It’s all good.
The Torah guides us through life. It teaches us that God has created us with physical and emotional needs that not only can but also should be fulfilled and satisfied within the moral and legal limits of halachah and musar. Is it OK to get drunk and then engage in inadequate behavior? Absolutely not. If we restrain ourselves in a responsible manner, then, for example, we can drink with moderation a good wine, which we appreciate and can afford, we make the bracha, and have in mind the kavana, the fervor, that we will enhance our holiday meal and sing praises to God. We make a shehecheyanu on new clothing, a chanukat habayit, a house warming party, on a new house. Moreover, those are one-time things. We make Kiddush on wine; we make a bracha every time we drink it. Like wearing a yarmulke, these are constant reminders of God’s presence in the world and our life.
Now, much like everything else, wine can be relatively inexpensive or expensive. Just as inexpensive does not necessarily mean poor quality, not all expensive wines are “worth it.” In choosing the wine to grace my table, I always favor quality over quantity, be it Purim, Shabbat meal, or a random Tuesday night dinner after a long day. I want to point out to a few of my favorite wines far from cheap, yet I find them worth it.
The real question is, how does one tell whether a wine is worth its price? My answer to that is quite simplistic. However much you paid for a bottle, as long as you greatly enjoy it and do not regret buying it, it is worth it. Think of your last great family vacation. You took everyone on a trip to Israel, stayed in a nice hotel, prayed at the Kotel, visited your old buddies, and had a grand time. It might have cost you a pretty penny, but you would probably do it again and pay for it in a heartbeat. It is the same idea here. Whether you paid $30, $50, or $100 for that great bottle of wine you had over Shabbat, if you greatly enjoyed it, then it was worth it.
One of my favorite recently released wines from Bordeaux is Château Malmaison Baronne Nadine de Rothschild 2018, from the northern appellation of Moulis-en-Médoc. It costs around $30-35. When I tasted it, it amazed me how good it was. Usually, wines like this cost around $80 on average.
An incredibly complex wine with notes of dark berries and earth that will become even more complex and enjoyable if cellared for 10-15 years. Wow. The Herzog Clone Six Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Chalk Hill 2018 is significantly more expensive. No less than $150. If you are financially blessed and want a wine that you can put away for your 2018-born grandchild’s engagement party, then this is a prime candidate. The depth, layers, and concentration make this wine a true showstopper. California winemaking in its entire splendor.
There is a Spanish wine that consistently ranks in my top 15 favorite wines. The $85 or so Clos Mesorah 2016 is even better than the beautiful label suggests. What an elegant and multidimensional wine, which beautifies the table just by its mere presence on it. A great blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan made by the first Jewish-owned and fully kosher winery in Spain since the dark days of the inquisition and the expulsion of Jews in 1492.
There are also some exceptional white wines, such as the Flam Camellia 2019 from Israel, which retails around $50. It is a Chardonnay, with just a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc that gives it a complex flavor profile and a vibrant mouthfeel. Amazing wine to enjoy with gravlax! Last but not least, the $75 Petit Guiraud Sauternes 2017, a sweet, white dessert wine that will add a special dimension to benching at the end of the meal. It has wonderful notes of orange marmalade, dried mango, and apricot intermixed with caramelized almonds. Still, the lively acidity prevents it from ever feeling cloying and heavy. Whichever wines you like and choose, they will help making this coming Purim truly memorable for you in all the right ways. Happy Purim!