Made for Food and Plenty of Kosher Examples to go around

Sangiovese’s high acidity and tart cherry fruit notes make it one of the world’s finest red wines for food pairing.  Obviously best served with a tomato dish, Sangiovese also will cover pretty much any food you throw at it; it’s that versatile of a food wine!  This grape struggles pretty much everywhere outside of Italy, but for the Kosher drinker that’s no worry.  There are plenty of both large and boutique Kosher wineries producing quality Sangiovese on the Italian mainland.

More than Chianti

The most well-known expression of Sangiovese comes from the historical surrounding regions of the town of Chianti known as the Classico region.  Most of these wines are a vast, vast majority of Sangiovese and are produced with an eye for local and traditional Italian cuisine.  However, Sangiovese also frequently gets the blend treatment with so called Super Tuscan blends of Sangiovese and international varietals.  Israel actually also grows a fair amount of this grape, and there are plenty of excellent examples to try should you be so inclined!

One of the most noble of all Italian wine grapes, Sangiovese is found in Israel but easily finds its best Kosher expression in Italy made by those who truly know the grapes home.

A blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, From organically grown grapes
Smooth, full-bodied wine with strong cherry aromas.
From a kosher boutique winery situated in the heart of Tuscany

kosher wine and food pairing

One of the most frequently-asked questions is with respect to finding the “right” wine(s) to go with any number of specific dishes and/or holiday meals.  The general belief is that wine is a beverage that can and should bring pleasure and therefore one should drink the wines you like with the food you like. That said, there are some pretty easy-to-follow tips that can bring an even higher level of enjoying to your meals.

Even though a fair amount of wine is enjoyed without the accompaniment of food, food and wine are soulmates that should rarely be separated.  Similar to the Torah’s description of man and woman’s ability to compliment each other, wine and food belong together, with each bringing something to the table that enhances the other.    

Our general philosophy is that when it comes to enjoying the nectar of the gods – do with your wine that which brings you (and yours) pleasure and enjoyment, regardless of the prevailing common wisdom or opinion of so-called experts  

Drink the wines that bring you the most pleasure, whether mouth-puckering and acid loaded Sancerre, oak-aged ripe Cabernet Sauvignon wines or full-bodied buttery Chardonnays.  Bring them to the table regardless of what culinary fare is being served.  

There is a ton of legitimate science behind food pairings and a highly successful pairing has the power to elevate dining to a transcendental experience.  The majority of science relates to the manner in which different food compounds interact with those in the wines (and in the other dishes with which they are served).  In order to help make your meals more enjoyable, here are some general tips and helpful suggestions for thinking about your food and wine in a slightly different way; a way that will make it easier to create a more harmonious combination of foods and wine.

Before getting into specifics with respect to the individual characteristics of the wine and food in question, one should first consider whether the goal of the pairing is to complement or contrast.  If a complementary pairing is desired, focusing on the dominant flavors in the relevant dish can be helpful in finding a matching wine.  Pairing the 16 ounce aged ribeye in pepper sauce with a spicy Syrah or Zinfandel will provide complementary nuances as will a buttery Chardonnay with a sea bass poached in farm-fresh French butter.  Other examples would be to pair a meat dish sweetened by a fruity sauce or glaze with a red wine that is very fruit-forward or utilizing the savory and earthy notes in a classic Bordeaux to match with a dish redolent with pungent mushrooms or other umami-heavy foods.  If your goal is to showcase the uniqueness of either the food or wine, you might prefer to use the textures of each to showcase a contrast between the two.  Utilizing texture leads to many of the more well-known pairings including matching the grease-laden traditional Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot with a crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wine (that has the added grease-cutting abilities drawn from its bubbles).

One of the most important things to consider are the characteristics of the wine and food in question, with the wine’s “weight” or how it feels in your mouth (heavily influenced by the alcohol content) being the most important piece of the puzzle and the easiest to understand – lighter wines go with lighter food and heavier wines make better pairings with heavier dishes.  The rationale being that one wants the food and wine to complement each other as opposed to one overwhelming the other.  The nuanced beauty of a delicate and complex Pinot Noir could be obliterated by a perfectly constructed beef bourguignon, whereby a rich and slightly spicy Shiraz would provide the needed heft to match the dish round for round.  The need for proper balancing of the weight is the genesis of the now-infamous “white with fish and red with meat” rule, but given the dizzying array of possible weights for fish (think of lighter white fish versus heavier tuna and salmon), poultry (lighter chicken versus heavier turkey or goose) and meat (veal is significantly lighter than beef), the simplistic cliché is not really relevant.

While the alcohol level plays a big part in the weight of the wine, a dizzying array of other wine components all have a say in how well a wine will pair with any particular food or dish.  Any list of factors to be taken into consideration when thinking about wine and food pairing will include the levels of acid, alcohol and sugar in any particular wine, along with the oak influence and strength of its tannins.  Similar to salt’s role when flavoring food, acid acts as an enhancer, highlighting the primary flavors in any particular food.  As long as the wine is balanced, the higher the acidity levels the better the wine will pair with food.  A white wine’s acidity levels, together with its level of dryness (i.e. lack of residual sugar) will contribute to its “crispness”, which can serve as a lovely balance to fatty foods.  While acid can be (and is) added to any wine (a practice especially prevalent in hotter-climate wine-growing regions, where the wines ripen too quickly for their natural acidity levels to be sufficiently preserved), some grape varietals are more natural acidic then others including Barbera, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.  

In addition to their influence on a wine’s weight (and the resulting food-compatibility), higher alcohol in a wine can overwhelm delicate flavors in a dish by creating a bitter sensation, but can play very nicely with sweeter foods (e.g. most dessert wines are relatively high in alcohol).  In addition to their über-importance in a wine’s structure, balance and aging ability, a wine’s tannins can be softened by pairing them with fatty and high-protein foods like steak and certain cheeses.  However, when paired with sweeter foods, the tannins can have the negative impact of diminishing the sweetness and making the food seem dry and bitter (e.g. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and rich chocolate fudge cake are not the best pairing).  Keep in mind is that a dish’s sauce or glaze will often provide the dominant flavor in a dish so make sure to take the flavors and textures of the sauce when thinking through any wine pairing scenarios.  Another tidbit is to ensure that any dessert wine you are serving should be sweeter than the dessert it is expected to accompany.

Especially when you are contemplating a multi-course meal with numerous dishes and/or dominant flavors in each course, the thought of coming up with a “proper” wine pairing can seem significantly overwhelming (especially on top of actually cooking all that delectable food).  If the thought causes you stress just stick to some generally food friendly wines, that manage to pair nicely with a wide array of different flavors. Chief among such wines is Champagne (or other good sparkling wines), whose crisp dry acidity, typically low(er) alcohol level and refreshing bubbles ensure a wine-range of pairing opportunities and make it the go-to pairing partner (besides providing you with the welcome opportunity to significantly up your sparkling wine consumption).  Other options are crisply dry Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  While they can certainly provide magnificent pairings with a little bit of thought and advance planning, bigger and bolder Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not wines that can be relied on to safely pair with anything you put in front of them (with tannin likely a food pairings worst enemy).  One of the kosher wine world’s many ironies is that these two varietals are the best-selling wines for a consumer base whose primary method of wine consumption is during Shabbat and Chag meals where the need for versatile wines is the greatest.

Despite all of the above, the awesomeness of any particular pairing hinges on whether you like the wine or food in question.  Sauternes and foie gras may be a classic (and insanely divine) pairing, but it won’t be enjoyable to you if you don’t like  Sauternes or foie gras. 

italian reds: easy-drinking wines for summer dinners

As the weather starts to warm up, Italian herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary just call out to be served with grilled poultry, pasta and fish. And there’s nothing better to pair with that than Italian table reds: Chianti, of course, but also Montepulciano and other red blends are great lighter reds to go with light foods. My team tried a few of these types of table wines and came up with our favorites from two Italian wineries.

Cantina Giuliano

Shortly before Pesach, I had the honor to meet Eli Gaulthier, the owner of Tuscany’s Cantina Giuliano, one of just three fully kosher wineries in Europe. It is certified by the OU and the entire winery is under the supervision of the dayan of Amsterdam, Rav Eliezer Wolff. Cantina Giuliano has a farm-to-table restaurant and currently produces three types of wine and olive oil. Eli’s wife, Lara, whose family has lived in the Tuscan village of Casciana Alta for five generations, is learning the art of cheesemaking, and produces cheese for sale as well. For the restaurant, they also produce handmade jams, pasta, ice cream, croissants and bread. Half the year, the Gaultiers live in Strasbourg, France, where Eli learns in Beit Midrash full time; the other half of the year they buy grapes from the surrounding vineyards, make the wine alongside consultant/award-winning winemaker Luca D’Attoma, welcome guests to their restaurant and enjoy Tuscany.

Cantina Giuliano’s current offerings include the Chianti d.o.c.g. Primizie 2014, their first vintage (primizie means first fruits), which is a blend of sangiovese, merlot and ciliegiolo grapes. It was aged 50 percent in stainless steel and 50 percent in French oak, for nine months. D.o.c.g. stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. They refer to government guarantees of the wines’ origins and adherence to taste, alcohol levels, percentage of varietals used and vineyard yield.

“The wine has a nice complexity and construction, with a low viscosity. It’s easy to drink,” said Shoval, who took home the rest of this bottle. I found the wine pleasingly light, fruity and aromatic, and particularly easy for summertime quaffing. It is an ideal accompaniment to grilled chicken, sea bass or other white fish. It has a light minerality/funkiness that was very pleasing, and added to its complexity.

Cantina Giuliano also offers the Costa Toscana i.g.t. La Gioia 2015. Gioia means joy in Italian. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak, and has a greater depth and viscosity than the Chianti. The wine comprises 65 percent sangiovese, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot. The wine also had a deeper color and required significantly more time to breathe before the herbal, earthy and mineral flavors came through; though some more intense cellar funk remained even then. Again, however, we noted there was complexity without a lot of viscosity, which really makes it a great choice for summer.

Both of these offerings, as well as their white wine, the Costa Toscana i.g.t. Vermentino 2016, are imported by Allied Imports, and are available at Wine Country and in many other fine wine stores. To learn more or to visit Cantina Giuliano on your summertime travels, visit

Borgo Reale

Allied’s other major imported Italian brand is Borgo Reale, which offers Chianti Vespertino 2015, Montepulchiano d’Abruzzo and Cantina del Borgo Reale Maturo. Borgo Reale does significant kosher runs under the supervision of the OU.

Borgo Reale Chianti Vespertino must be opened a few hours in advance of serving; otherwise, it seems like a very simple wine, albeit with a beautiful deep-purple color. Hours later, it opens and softens, and brings out the flavors of tart cherry, a touch of plum (without being too “plummy”), cranberry and a hint of chocolate. The wine has pleasing, balanced tannins and “would go great with chocolate mousse,” said Brooke. “This wine is palatable, still with lower viscosity than a traditional red like cabernet, simple, fruity, with a little bit of acid,” said Allyson. “This is a classic Chianti,” I thought. “This is my favorite in terms of taste,” Brooke added.

Borgo Reale Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano grape from Abruzzo, a mountainous region east of Rome. In the kosher version, some sangiovese grapes may be added. This wine has a good aromatic nose, with notes of fresh fruit. It has round tannins, excellent structure and delicate acidity. “This has a great color, and is so mellow and balanced,” said Shoval. “Because it doesn’t have strong tannins, this is not a ‘wow’ wine, but it’s decent and easy to drink, and sometimes that’s what matters,” he added.

We also tried the Borgo Reale Maturo, which we found to be extraordinarily plummy and fruity, even though it had been aged for six month in oak. It had the essences of autumnal spice, like nutmeg, and had a significant warmth going down. “There are a lot of different flavors going on here,” said Allyson. The wine is made with 55 percent primitivo and 45 percent negroamaro grapes, providing, according to more than one wine website, “the opulent velvetiness of the great northern wines with southern warmth and earthiness.”

The entire Borgo Reale line, which also includes pinot noir and pinot grigio, is available at Wine Country and other fine kosher wine stores.

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