The first night of Chanuka, one of the prettiest and most festive Jewish holidays, is a time for family and friends to gather around the table to commemorate the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by lighting a candle each night for eight days.
Eating foods that are cooked in oil, such as the much beloved potato latke, is also very much a part of the celebration.
But what about gifts, or gelt, on Chanuka. What is that for? Do you really need an excuse to give gifts?
The word “Chanuka” comes from the same word as chinuch (education). The Greeks wanted to make us forget the Torah, thus, when they were defeated, it was necessary to start re-educating the Jewish people, and especially the children.
Maimonides writes that it is important to use incentives in order to educate a child until he/she is old enough to independently understand the importance and beauty of the Torah and mitzvot. On Chanuka, the holiday that is dedicated to education, we tell the children: “Here is some Chanuka gelt, an incentive for you to study Torah properly.”
When giving Chanuka gelt, we also try to educate the children about the importance of giving charity with their own money. The traditional, and preferred, Jewish custom is to give money gifts. Unbeknownst to many, the prevailing practice of giving nonmonetary gifts actually stems from the secular practice of giving gifts for the seasonal holidays this time of year.
Well, I say why not give some wine instead of gelt or gifts. Not only does it relax people, it also tastes pretty good. So here are my eight wines for Chanuka.
First night: Segals Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve — Start out with something big on the first night. This wine is full-bodied with rich blackberry and dark cherry flavors and a nice long finish.
Second night: Yarden Pinot Noir — A nice Pinot in the Burgundy style, good complexity and nice fruit, easy drinking with latkes.
Third night: Herzog Jeunesse — A semisweet red tasting like strawberries and raspberries, very bright flavors, a solid wine with sufganiyot (doughnuts).
Fourth night: Herzog Late Harvest Riesling — Back-to-back Herzog products, back-to-back sweeter style wines. This wine is sweet with lovely apricot notes. I am a true fan of this wine.
Fifth night: Elvi Wines Adar — While it may be the month of Kislev, this wine from Spain is a unique blend of Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot and the Spanish grape known as Bobal, very tasty and great for drinking year-round.
Sixth night: Yogev Cabernet/Petit Verdot — This is one to have on Shabbat with brisket or cholent. This is a very dark wine with strong blackberry flavors. Some say it runs a bit hot (higher alcohol). A very dry wine.
Seventh night: Bartenurra Prosecco — Nothing like a bit of sparkling during the festival of lights. This slightly fruity, slightly dry wine is different from champagne. It is much lighter, so you need to be careful, because it can also be drunk much faster — the wine is super easy to drink.
Eighth night: What wine do you drink on the last night? Do you go out with a bang and have a Baron Herzog Generation VII (which can be found locally)? A big and bold wine that could last easily for 20 years or more. Maybe you have a Yarden Odem Organic Chardonnay, a beautifully complex wine that balances fruit and acidity extremely well. I think I will have a Brooklyn Brown Ale instead (it’s certified kosher). Have a great Chanuka.
(Uri Marcovitz, a Downtown Pittsburgh restaurateur and recognized wine expert [who dabbles in beer] can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)