By Bill St. John, Special to Tribune Newspapers
April 4, 2012
God causes grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man.
— Psalm 104
Who's "he"? God? Man?
Many theologies would place God in the running, the "he" who does all. But the Psalm seems also to suggest that God is not so selfish that he does not allow the human a small part in his creation; in this case a part in the making of food from plants or of wine from grapes. We, of course, do not create things as a god does, out of nothing. We create things after we first are given something to re-create.
I find it inspiring, especially at this time of year during Passover and on Easter, that when they bring forth bread and wine, Jews and Christians then offer these things back to God in their focal religious rituals.
At Passover (which begins April 6), the Haggadah teaches that, in diverse ways, God promises freedom for every person and all peoples. It is with cups of wine that Jewish people recall these promises. During many Christian rites on Easter (April 8), priests and ministers will raise cups of wine to remember the presence in history, the sacrifice, death and the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians will drink from these same cups as a sign of their faith in this, their foundational story.
Christian theologians call this sort of ritual a sacrament, that through which the divine breaks into the finite and, in turn, the human responds to the divine via the finite. When Jews and Christians take grapes and wheat and re-create them as their share in divinity, they touch the transcendent in the everyday; they make tangible what is intangible.
So much for the simple definition of wine as merely "fermented grape juice."
In a manner approaching the religious, I would submit, when we gather at table to partake of wine and food, we likewise reach for the transcendent in the everyday. There will be many such gatherings in the following days for both those who practice the Jewish and Christian traditions and for those who but believe in the Easter Bunny.
Yet everyone will mark the occasion with cups of wine. Here are some down-to-earth suggestions for your stabs at transcendence, how to pair your holiday foods with wine and some recommendations.
What a St. John knows from Pesach dinner is that its foods are as numerous as the tribes of Israel, hence sometimes a strain for quick and simple wine matches. Of course, the original "red wine with fish" pairing is Manischewitz and gefilte fish. But I digress.
Chances are that a red meat will center the feast, a brisket probably, a roast of lamb a possibility. The goyim red wine recommendations later will be tasty, to be sure, but I also have a deepening respect for many kosher for Passover red wines coming from both California and Israel. The same advance in skilled winemaking that makes purple purses of the (pardon, please) sows' ears of "off" vintages has informed kosher winemaking worldwide. Suffer no more the certainty of sweet grape-y plonk.
2006 Prix Merlot Reserve Vichy Vineyard, Napa Valley: A superlative red from the winemakers at Hagafen Cellars, for 30 years a top-flight kosher house; concentrated dark fruit, hinting at cocoa and spice, with tannins a mother would love; terrific. $55
2009 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Galilee, Israel: Great price for a true-blue cabernet, all elegance and finesse as a robe for juicily rendered dark berry fruit, moderate tannin and wisps of cedar, earth and moist tobacco. $25
2009 Binyamina Carignan Reserve, Galilee, Israel: In France, this grape can rough up the tongue; not from Israel, apparently; come-hither aromas and tastes of blueberry-flecked dark berry fruit; chalky, dusting tannins (lamb, please) and hints of cocoa and mineral; great value. $20
If lamb is the centerpiece of the Easter dinner table, few red wines pair as felicitously as cabernet sauvignon. Something about the finely etched tannin marries so well with the protein and fat; if a hint of mint or eucalyptus wafts forth from the glass, it's a far sight better condiment than green jelly.
2009 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma: A "hands-down best value" cabernet from a very expensive piece of real estate; super fine lines of cassis and dark berry fruit, silky tannin and that beautiful minty-menthol air so great with lamb. $20
2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills, Wash.: Great structure and flavor for the money; so "Washington" for its juicy, soft, plush fruit and tannin and impenetrable color. $28
2009 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: It will be difficult to drink this wine because all you will wish to do is smell it for its heady, seductive perfume (dark fruits, spice, anise, menthol); a sip, though, rewards with soft flowing fruit. $35
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.
Bill St John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.
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