By Gary Landsman
Purim is a holiday of confusion and allusion, where nothing is really “normal”.
Which got me thinking, that maybe I should relinquish typical wines in favor of more unusual ones this Purim. And these days we have many unusual wines, made from grapes that are not nearly as popular as the Cabernets, Merlots, or Chardonnays. What is interesting is that many of these unusual grapes (AKA “varietals”), have been around much longer than the more typical ones. And many of the wines made from these varietals come from grapes whose vines have been around for a long time. These “old vine” wines are generally extracted as the older vines produce fewer and often times smaller berries. Their roots are deeply entrenched in the soil, which enables them to survive without irrigation (called “dry farmed”). And the wines produced from said grapes are often quite elegant and complex. Making these unusual wines some of the best buys on the market.
The first wine that comes to mind comes from old vines here in the U.S. The most common old vines here are the Zinfandel vines in California. And an underappreciated wine is the Baron Herzog “Old Vine Zin”, from vines over 60 years old. Zinfandel wines have a unique flavor profile that often reminds people of things such as boysenberry, dried plums or blackberry jam. These ripe fruit flavors pair beautifully with wintertime stews.
The next two wines come from Israel, a location where they were making wines 3,000 years ago. No, the old vine wines from Israel are not that old. Muslim rule in the area saw to it that all vines were uprooted so that no alcoholic beverages could be produced. And while the modern wine revolution in Israel dates back to the late 1800’s, Israel did not truly begin producing world-class wines until about 20 years ago.
So the Carmel Old Vine Petite Sirah, from 25 plus year old vines in the Judean Hills region means these vines pre-date the quality wine revolution in Israel. These vines were actually forgotten about for several years and as wine production became hot the grape grower reintroduced some forgotten about grapes. Petit Sirah is commonly used as a grape to blend with other grapes, but the fruit on these vines were deemed worthy of making their own wine. This deep purple and tannic wine is like a wine on steroids. Very big, chewy and delicious – you’ll definitely want to pair it with a roast.
Another old vine wine produced by Carmel is the Old Vine Carignan. These vines are even older than the Petite Sirah at over 30 years old, and are located in Zichron Yaakov not far from Israel’s oldest winery. The interesting story with this vineyard is that the Carignan vine produces a lot of bunches of grapes relative to other varietals. At the time the farmers were getting paid by weight, so naturally they would plant vines that produce a lot of fruit. Years passed and vineyards were uprooted in favor or more popular varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But this particular vineyard in Zichron was overlooked. And when they realized it was still there, the immediately knew were sitting on something special.
The Carmel Old Vine Carignan is an elegant, medium bodied wine with cherry and coffee/mocha aromas. Rich yet delicate berry flavors and a long finish make this unique wine perfect for chicken, meat or pasta dishes.
Rounding out our unique varietals is Garnacha (as it is known in Spain) or Grenache. The Capcanes Peraj Petita has about 2/3 Garnacha from vines that are as much as 50 years old. This Spanish Co-op has been in the wine business for over 100 years, but only started making wine in the mid 1990’s. Their first wine, the Peraj Ha’abib immediately won accolades, and the market begged for a more affordable wine. Priced at around $20/bottle, the Petita is a fresh and lively wine with floral aromas and both berry and spice flavors. The refreshing acidity of this wine makes it a great pairing for all kinds of foods as well as a wine that is a great sipper on its own.
These old vine unusual varietal wines will surely lead to great conversation this Purim, so much so that you may decide they are worthy of your regular Shabbos or Yom Tov table…