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Experiencing Universal Light with Israeli Wines for Passover

A trip to the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and to some of Israel's best wineries

Yarden Bar'on Vineyard.

It is remarkable how on Friday night a whole city shuts down to give its people time to do what is most important in life: to reflect on themselves and their relationships with others. That is what Shabbat, Passover and drinking wine are all about.

Surrounded by laughter, boisterous conversations and colorful fruits, vegetables and spices, I found myself getting swept away by another culture, another way of living. I was in Jerusalem, in Israel, at the Mahane Yehuda Market. It would soon be Friday afternoon and only a few hours from the beginning of the Sabbath – a day of religious observance and abstinence from work kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening. The work week was over. The time for picking special ingredients for a lovely Shabbat dinner with friends and family was delightfully on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Jewish Style

Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.

I was in Israel for a week of wine tasting as well as visiting producers in various regions. One of the things that struck me about the trip was the diversity of ancestry, backgrounds, customs and opinions. Many times, through our local news back in America, we are shown a very one sided view of another country that really doesn’t give a full picture of the differences that exist within it. Nowhere is this truer than Israel, since, for the most part, the people I met were Jewish, but they manifested how they defined themselves and what that means to them in varying ways. Although I have already written about this Israeli trip, I cannot help but write something again considering that next week Passover begins.

Passover Diversity

In New York City, one of the most popular Jewish holidays is Passover – not only because typically both non-religious and religious Jews observe the holiday, but it is also customary to invite non-Jewish people to the Passover Seder as well. So, for the many Jews who do not observe weekly Shabbat, Passover becomes that one time of year they experience the setting aside of the pressures of life to sit and be with family and/or their community. I myself have been to different types of Passover dinners. Some people actually did perform the whole Seder, others only observed sections of it. Some Seders were just a gathering of family, friends and co-workers to eat traditional dishes and to take time to reflect on themselves and each other – what makes us distinct from each other as well as what makes us similar. But all of these aforementioned Seders were reflective opportunities for everyone at the table.

The Purpose of Wine

As I think back to my visit to the Mahane Yehuda Market, it dawned on me that it was remarkable to experience a whole city shutting down to give its people time to do what is most important in life: to reflect on themselves, their relationships with others and find peace and closure, so that we may constantly grow. Sometimes a Passover Seder ends with the exclamation “next year in Jerusalem”. I had always envisioned myself going there, but I never knew what I would get out of the experience. Well, I finally made it and I came back with a stronger sense that I needed to make more time for those in my life who are cut from the same cloth – sharing values, ethics and trying to add to the light in the world, no matter their superficial labels. To me, that is what Shabbat, Passover and drinking wine are all about.

And so, “next year in Jerusalem” (again), so I can deepen my sense of self and my connection to others.

Cathrine’s Recommendations

I had the pleasure of visiting all three of the wineries below while in Israel earlier this year.

Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)

2014 Binyamina ‘Bin’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, Israel ($11): Kosher for Passover and Mevushal. Binyamina has a nice approachability to their wines that has given them great success in the US. This Bin Cabernet Sauvignon is a bargain with juicy blackberry fruit, spice and a refreshing finish.

Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)

2015 Dalton Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Galilee, Israel (2014 is available for $19): I knew very little about Dalton before I visited their winery and I have to say that I was quite taken by the charm of the place, people and their wines. I had so many favorites, but since I have to pick one, I picked their Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, which proves why Sauvignon Blanc is considered such an ideal white grape for Israel. This Reserve Sauvignon Blanc has a beautiful white peach flavor with layers of tropical fruit (some of the fruit was picked earlier for acidity and other fruit was picked later for ripeness) with a hint of honey and fennel fronds. This wine is refreshing yet rich and over delivers considering the price!

Fantasy Wine (over $50)
israeli wines

Bar’on Vineyard.

2013 Yarden, Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bar’on Vineyard, Golan Heights ($106): The Golan Heights Winery is a gold standard, not only for other Israeli wineries, but also for the world – there is no greater proof of this than their premium Yarden line of wines. This Bar’on Vineyard is the first-ever release of a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from this site, with only 30 barrels made. This wine has an intense precision and profound sense of place and it is an outstanding example of Golan Heights Cabernet. The Bar’on takes you on a journey with a multitude of aromatic and flavor complexities with black cherry, cocoa nib, dark volcanic rock and a touch of black currant leaf on the finish. The well-knit tannins, marked acidity and overall vitality makes this wine a show stopper now, but I advise trying to get a couple of bottles to cellar since it will make extraordinary old bones.

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