Easter and Passover Wines

It is Spring time, which for most people in the United States, means spring break, the melting of the snow, and the blooming of daffodils and tulips. For many at this time of year Passover and Easter are are the focus of not only religious renewal, but also family traditions. The tradition of wine with this time of year can be traced back to the last supper (during Passover) where Christ broke the bread, and drank the wine from the chalice, which later led to the Eucharist. Wine has a long history with religion.

The traditional Passover meal (Seder) includes unleavened matzoh as a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt, leaving no time for dough to rise and zeroah, a roasted lamb shankbone.

Easter traditions vary more widely, based on family heritage and history. Many families prefer to attend an Easter brunch after church services. These meals can vary widely in the choices, but some of the most common traditions include hot crossed buns, and hard boiled egg dishes. When it comes to dinners, the traditions seem a bit more focused. Two main courses have been garnering most of the attention in the United States: Roast lamb, and Honey-baked Ham.

When it comes to wine pairings for Passover, the choice is much easier than for Easter. The Passover Seder calls for four glasses of wine, which are consumed during the service to represent the four-fold promise of redemption, with a special glass left for Elijah the prophet. The wine should be kosher, which will limit our choices. Since the main course is lamb, the focus should be on heavier red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. These are classic pairings for lamb dishes, particularly roasted lamb. While I must admit, my tastings of kosher wines are somewhat limited, I can recommend s few that I have tried: Yarden (from Israel) makes a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, and tow California winemakers: Baron Herzog and Covenant are making both Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Stay away from the Manischewitz, unless you like the taste of concord grapes in your wine glass.

As mentioned, the Easter brunch offers the biggest options, and depends on what the focus is. Egg dishes present their own challenges, since egg yolk coats the mouth. With these types of dishes, we need a palate cleansing wine. Something higher in acid would be ideal, and even better would be a little bubble action to help scrub away the egg film. For this reason, sparkling wines are the ideal choice. Depending on the mix of items offered at brunch, you'll next need to decide if you want a fruitier, fuller wine (Blanc de Noirs) or something with a little more finesse (Blanc de blancs). An more versatile choice might even be a rose sparkling wine. The nice thing about sparkling wines, is that you don't have to break the bank, and purchase the best cuvée de prestige. There are some very nice, reasonably priced sparkling wines. If you can find it, one of the best values is Gruet (from New Mexico, of all places). Even the inexpensive (around $5) Schloss Biebrich Sekt from Trader Joe's is a decent entry level sparkler, and perfect if you are going to also make Mimosas.

As for the Easter dinner, I have already mentioned some choices that work for lamb. The classic pairings are Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. I tend to prefer a bit lower alcohol level with my wines, so I steer towards some of the cooler growing regions, where the grapes' sugar levels don't get so high.

Ham offers a whole bunch of options, and depends on the style of ham you are serving. The classic honey-baked ham is on the sweeter side, so I would go with a dry Riesling. I prefer Alsatian Riesling from France, or German Spatslese with lower sugar levels (read my blog about German wines to help determine sweetness). If you are more of a red drinker, Look for Pinot Noir or even a village level Beaujolais (Gamay). A dry Rose would work nice too.

Other types of ham open the door a little further. Clove studded ham adds some spice that might work nicely with a Gewurztraminer. Ham with pineapple should work well with Chardonnay. Again, if you prefer red wines, try a Rioja (Tempranillo) or even a fruity Zinfandel. And, as stated before, a dry Rose will satisfy both white and red drinkers.

As with all holidays, enjoy your gatherings. Make them special with the proper pairings. And, remember the reason for the season. Happy Easter and Pesach same'ach.

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